George Ryan and why Illinois politicians can't be trusted to issue illegal driver's licenses

Illinois has a sordid history when it comes to issuing illegal driver's licenses - just ask convicted Gov. George Ryan. Photo: AP

CHICAGO, November 30, 2012 ― Hey, Illinois Republicans, don’t you remember that selling “illegal” driver’s licenses just doesn’t pay? The last time the Illinois GOP was involved in selling illegal driver’s licenses, a Republican governor went to prison.

But, apparently – despite what you’ve been told – some elephants do forget.

Thanks to Republicans Sen. Christine Radogno and Sen. Bill Brady, a new controversial bill to permit 250,000 illegal immigrants to receive Illinois driver’s licenses cleared the Senate Executive Committee by a 12-2 vote on Thursday. A full Senate vote is expected next week.

If the bill is passed by the House and signed by Gov. Quinn in January, Illinois will join other states like New Mexico and Washington state in issuing licenses to undocumented workers.

According to the Highway Safety Coalition (HSC), a pro-amnesty front group, approximately 80,000 accidents are caused every year by “unlicensed, uninsured immigrants” in Illinois.

HSC mentioned in a recent tweet that they don’t like the ‘I” word; but I think we should just be honest and call a spade a spade: illegal immigrants.

That begs the question: What happens to the 80,000 uninsured illegal immigrants involved in those accidents?

Illinois is a sanctuary state with a very lenient policy on illegal immigration. So next to nothing happens. Insurance premiums skyrocket and legal, insured drivers are on the hook for an extra $836 million a year.

So isn’t that another reason to punish – instead of rewarding – uninsured, illegal drivers?

The HSC and Illinois politicians say “no.” They say that if illegal immigrants are able to pay for insurance, that will help bring insurance premiums down. The HSC also says this new legislation will keep Illinois drivers safe.

OK, let’s talk about road safety and Illinois’ unique track record in issuing “illegal” driver’s licenses.

In 1994, an illegally licensed truck driver named Ricardo Guzman caused the deaths of the six young Willis children in a fiery van crash near Milwaukee.

A large piece of his truck’s taillight assembly had broken off and Guzman, who purposely ignored the warnings of other drivers, failed to stop. He said he was afraid of being stopped by police. Other driver’s radioed him on the CB but Guzman, a Mexican native, didn’t understand English.

Duane and Janet Willis’ van struck the assembly which pierced the gas tank, causing the van to explode and trapping the young Willis children inside. No human being should die like that – much less six children.

The horrific deaths of the Willis children ignited a federal investigation into how Guzman managed to get a commercial driver’s license or CDL. The resulting investigation, Operation Safe Roads, exposed a heinous bribery scheme in George Ryan’s Secretary of State’s office: Pay a bribe, get a license.

After all, this is Illinois. Bribing people is what people do here. Blagojevich didn’t invent pay-to-play; he learned it.

Is any of this starting to ring a bell, Illinois Republicans?

At that time the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act required that a driver must be able to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language and to respond to official inquiries.”

Non-English speaking applicants like Guzman were required to take a written exam to receive their CDL.

But during the Ryan years, the Secretary of State’s office disregarded federal and state law. Oral exams were permitted and applicants were even allowed to bring in translators – which enabled examiners to rig exams and pass unqualified applicants in exchange for bribes.

During the trial, Guzman asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 30 times on the federal witness stand. He had failed his CDL exam and then, just weeks later, examiners passed him. He never admitted he paid a bribe to get his CDL, and he was never charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

Illinois has a bad habit of not punishing people who violate the law, doesn’t it?

From driver’s licenses to vehicle stickers, Ryan & Co. collected their kickbacks. Whistleblowers told their party bosses that unqualified people were receiving licenses and were promptly told to shut up and look the other way. Unsafe driver’s who failed the driving test were put on the road. And people died.

A lot of people died – not just the Willis children.


The investigation determined that more than 2,000 tainted licenses were issued, and all the while Ryan had been collecting cash payments, gifts and vacations at Jamaican villas. 80 defendants were eventually convicted in the wide-ranging scheme.

There are political motives behind this new legislation in Illinois to allow illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses, too. Illinois politicians are licking their chops over all those votes in the growing Hispanic community.

The corporate headquarters of State Farm Insurance is in Bloomington, Illinois – Sen. Bill Brady’s state senate district. They would benefit from this deal. Is State Farm twisting Brady’s arm?

How many unqualified drivers will be issued licenses this time? Who will be on the receiving end of the kickbacks? How many more people will die?

I have a different proposal: How about actually punishing people who drive cars without a license and without insurance?

If there are 80,000 people crashing cars without a license, shouldn’t we punish them? Wouldn’t Illinois citizens be safer if they weren’t on the roads?

Illinois Republicans have a short memory of why Illinois lawmakers can’t be trusted to sell illegal driver’s licenses.

Maybe a visit to George Ryan’s prison cell will jog their memories.

William J. Kelly is an Emmy award-winning TV producer and conservative columnist. He is also a contributor to the American Spectator and He is a native from Chicago’s Southside.

Email questions to him at Find him on Facebook/Williamjpkelly 

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William Kelly


Conservative commentator, satirist, and radio talk show host William J. Kelly pens the “Kelly Truth Squad” and “The Tea Party Report” for the Washington Times Communities and is a contributor to the American Spectator and Kelly is also a producer of Emmy award-winning TV and received an Emmy nomination himself for outstanding achievement on-camera. He was previously the Executive Director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, a taxpayer watchdog group. He is a native of Chicago’s South side. For more information, visit

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