IMage: Lura Lynn Ryan, George Ryan Dan Webb
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
In this Sept. 28, 2005, photo, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, left, arrives with his wife Lura Lynn, center, and attorney Dan Webb at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago for his racketeering trial.
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updated 1/7/2011 9:25:55 PM ET 2011-01-08T02:25:55

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan spent two hours this week with his terminally ill wife of 55 years, after quietly being let out of prison in Indiana and escorted by guards to her bedside at a Kankakee hospital.

His clandestine visit with Lura Lynn Ryan — a three-hour drive from his federal prison in Indiana to the Illinois hospital where his wife is being treated for cancer — was revealed for the first time Friday by prosecutors in a court filing opposing bail for Ryan. The former governor has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

As Ryan sat by his wife's hospital bed Wednesday night in a second-floor intensive care unit, a weak Lura Lynn struggled to speak at times, Ryan's attorney and longtime family friend, former Gov. James Thompson, told The Associated Press on Friday. He said Ryan was not allowed to visit with his children and grandchildren, only his wife.

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"She was able to talk to him part of the time and she slept part of the time," he said. "She was in and out, but she recognized him."

The visit came just hours after Ryan's attorneys filed an emergency motion asking an appellate court to release him on bail because of his wife's condition. A judge has yet to rule on that request, but the prison warden could — and did — act on his own to allow a visit.

Thompson and other Ryan attorneys did not publicly reveal the visit Wednesday night or Thursday, even as they pursued the separate legal motion. Thompson said Friday that he didn't mean to mislead anybody, and that he didn't know about the Ryan visit until informed late Wednesday evening by Ryan's son.

Thompson said prison officials had asked the family to keep word of the visit under wraps, so he decided to keep quiet about it as well.

In a strongly worded filing Friday, Ryan's attorneys castigated prosecutors for disclosing the visit, saying it violated federal nondisclosure policies and calling it "shabby behavior."

"What they did was take a two-hour visit granted by the prison — not by prosecutors — and now they are using it as a weapon in appellate court by saying he doesn't need bail because of the visit," Thompson told the AP. "A two-hour visit is not the equivalent of being able to go home on bail and spend time with your dying wife."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, Randall Samborn, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on the issue. The prosecutors' filing earlier Friday said they did not dispute that Lura Lynn Ryan is gravely ill, but they cited the Wednesday visit as one reason that appellate judges should not release Ryan on bond.

"Although the serious medical problems suffered by his wife are truly unfortunate, they do not warrant special treatment with respect to bail pending appeal in the context of post-conviction proceedings," the filing says.

There was no immediate word about when judges with the 7th Court of Appeals in Chicago might rule on the bond motion. Such motions can take days, even weeks for a ruling.

Just last month, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer upheld Ryan's conviction and denied his request for bond. Pallmeyer acknowledged his wife's plight, but said Ryan's "conduct has exacted a stiff penalty, not only for himself but also for his family."

That came nearly a month after Ryan's attorneys argued that parts of his 2006 conviction should be tossed based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing anti-fraud laws — known as "honest services" laws. The judge ruled that while the Supreme Court case was relevant, Ryan's circumstances were different enough that his conviction should stand.

The seriousness of Lura Lynn Ryan's illness led the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to escort the former governor to the Kankakee hospital, about 130 miles from the facility where he is serving his sentence. "There ... Ryan visited with his wife for approximately two hours between approximately 7:30 and 9:40 p.m.," prosecutors said in their filing.

While Ryan himself was not visible from an ICU waiting room, more than a dozen relatives of the Ryan family were gathered there around the time prosecutors said Ryan was at the hospital.

The mood there was somber, and those gathered spoke in hushed voices. There were three security personnel stationed just inside the ICU doors, but no indication they were accompanying George Ryan. No security was seen at the same location Thursday night.

During the visit to the Riverside Medical Center in the couple's hometown, prison escorts barred the 76-year-old former governor from talking to other relatives assembled nearby, Thompson said.

"The children and grandchildren were there when he arrived in her room, and prison officials told them to leave," he said.

Thompson said George Ryan told him by telephone after he was returned to the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., that he was thankful to prison officials.

"He's really grateful for the two hours he got," Thompson said. "But after he saw her condition, I'm sure going back was even tougher."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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