Contribution by the Center for Illinois Politics
Full list of convicted Governors
Governors convicted on greater federal corruption offenses (specifically under violations of the Hobbs Act, RICO, the Travel Act, mail or wire fraud, or through establishing a conspiracy to defraud the US government):
Rod Blagojevich (D) – Illinois Governor, 2002-2009 (impeached by the Illinois General Assembly): Charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery in 2008. More poignantly, he was accused of attempting to sell former IL senator’s Barack Obama newly vacant seat for “personal financial benefits”. Federal prosecutors characterized his conduct as something that “would make Lincoln roll over in his grave”. Sentenced in Dec. 7th, 2011 to 14 years in federal prison. Pardon currently being considered by Pres. Trump.
Otto Kerner, Jr. (D) – Illinois Governor, 1961-1968: Kerner had been a sitting judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit at the time of his indictment in 1972 for conspiracy, mail fraud, income tax evasion and lying to a grand jury, charges for which he was convicted of in 1973. The charges had been connected to a 1962 affair when the then-governor colluded with the owner of the Arlington Park racetrack to give him favorable race dates in exchange for cheap stocks on the racing company itself. Kerner was sentenced to three years in federal prison, though he only served six months – being released to treat the lung cancer that ultimately was the cause of his 1976 death.
George H. Ryan (R) – Illinois Governor, 1999-2003: Ryan was first indicted under federal charges for taking bribes in return for government leases and contracts while he was the Secretary of State for Jim Edgar. Then, he was again indicted and convicted in 2006 under charges of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and bribery (among other things) while both still Secretary of State and governor afterwards. Sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison in Sep. 2006, Ryan was released in 2013. He was refused a pardon or commutation of sentence by Pres. George W. Bush.
Ray Blanton (D) – Tennessee Governor, 1975-1979: Convicted in 1981 of mail fraud, conspiracy and extortion in the selling of liquor licenses throughout his term. Blanton had attempted to create a scheme where the owners of Nashville liquor stores would be beholden to him, either by being controlled directly or paying a 30% profits kickback. Served 22 months in a federal penitentiary. Nine of the charges against him were overturned in a federal court action in 1988. Died in 1996.
Edwin Edwards (D) – Louisiana Governor, 1972-1996: Convicted in 2001 for crimes including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. Edwards was widely known as one of the most powerful and popular players in the Louisiana political landscape, and had managed to dodge corruption charges for years before his apprehension. He was incarcerated in a federal prison for eight of his ten-year sentence, and was summarily released in 2011.
Richard W. Leche (D) – Louisiana Governor, 1936-1939: Leche, throughout his tenure, was largely seen as an example of political excess and malpractice, both things which ultimately led to him being sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 1940 under charges of corruption and mail fraud. Paroled in 1945, Leche was furthermore pardoned by Pres. Harry Truman in 1953 under the suspicion that the harsh sentence was a result of partisanship. He died in 1965, having started working as a lobbyist for construction firms a few years before. Source: https://64parishes.org/entry/richard-w-leche
David Hall (D) – Oklahoma Governor, 1971 – 1975: Hall was charged in 1975 of federal racketeering and extortion charges involving paying to sway investments towards a state retirement fund. He was convicted of bribery and extortion and spent 19 months out of a three-year sentence in prison. Hall died in 2016, aged 85.
William Langer (R/Non-Partisan League) – North Dakota Governor, 1933-1934, 1937-1939: Langer was convicted in 1934 for soliciting political contributions from federal employees. More specifically, he had for a long while required state employees to pay a subscription fee to his own newspaper the Leader (which apparently was seen as acceptable practice at the time), but the overlap between federal and state systems due to the former’s economic relief measures taking over certain jobs in North Dakota’s public works unwittingly put Langer in dangerous waters and he was charged with attempting to defraud the United States relief system for more money. He was removed from the office by the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1934 and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. However, after three more trials, he was acquitted of all charges in 1935 and would go on to successfully run for governor in 1936. In 1940, he was elected to the US Senate, a position he held until his death in 1959.
Arch A. Moore, Jr. (R) – West Virginia Governor, 1969-1977 and 1985-1989: Moore was convicted in 1990 of widespread corruption charges involving extortion, mail fraud, obstruction of justice and filing false income tax returns throughout his 1984 and 1988 re-election campaigns. Moore had already been under the crosshair of legal authorities since the 1970s, when he and a top aide were implicated in an extortion conspiracy involving a state bank charter and $25,000, though they were both acquitted in 1976. The 1990 charges, however, included accusations that Moore had accepted $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions and attempted to extort almost $600,000 from a local coal executive in return for helping him get back $2.3 million in reimbursements from the state’s black lung compensation program. After filing a guilty plea (which he later tried to rescind), Moore served around three years in federal prison until 1993. He died in 2015, aged 91.
John G. Rowland (R) – Connecticut Governor, 1995-2004: Rowland was arrested twice under federal charges, once in 2004 in connection with a corruption scheme involving vacations, luxury air charters and home renovations for the then-governor, and again in 2014 for election fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with his role in the campaign of congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Folley in 2012. Although in 2004 Rowland served only ten months in prison, his 2014 conviction netted him a 30-month sentence to be carried out starting fall 2016. However, he was released in May 2018. Rowland today works as a development director for Prison Fellowship Ministry.
Don Siegelman (D) – Alabama Governor, 1999-2003: A veteran of Alabama politics who served as Secretary of State and Attorney General before being elected governor, Siegelman was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2005 under the charge that he had sold a seat in the Alabama health board to healthcare service provider HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy for $500,000 in donations to his 1999 campaign. On Jan. 2006, Siegelman was found guilty of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, and sentenced in 2007 to 88 months in federal prison (along with Scrushy, who got 82). Although he got out in 2008 on an appeal bond, Siegelman’s long legal battle (which even involved an email where Al Gore reached out to the ex-governor’s supporters and asked them to donate to his diminishing defense fund) culminated with the US Supreme Court refusing to hear his appeal case. Part of his appeal argument in the meantime was that if he was convicted then so could any other politician who bestowed a favor upon one of his supporters. Ultimately, Siegelman was sentenced to 78 months in prison 2012 (two charges had been retired by an appeals court in the meantime, diminishing his due time), for which he was released in Feb. 2017. He was refused a pardon by Pres. Barack Obama.
Furthermore, here’s a list of governors convicted under other charges, including lesser corruption charges, state crimes, misdemeanors and felonies, including perjury, obstruction of justice, electoral fraud, and tax evasion.
*Note: This list includes individuals convicted both for actions as governor or as civilians, and also those who were charged with major crimes but whose convictions were eventually overturned or given after their term as governor.
Robert J. Bentley (R) – Alabama Governor, 2011-2017: Resigned in 2017 due to two misdemeanor charges (specifically failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign contributions to personal use) and a scandal involving an affair with his senior political advisor.
Roger B. Wilson (D) – Missouri Governor, 2000-2001 (finished term of previous governor, who died in office): Sentenced in 2012 to a $2,000 fine and two years in probation for illegally funneling political contributions to the Missouri Democratic Party through the Missouri Employers Mutual Company, for which Wilson was CEO at the time – crime thus wasn’t committed during his term.
Mike Easley (D) – North Carolina Governor, 2001-2009: Although Easley was facing serious accusations from federal authorities (including suspicious travel expenses, favoritism towards family members and campaign finance irregularities) that could have netted him 15 months in prison, his attorneys ultimately cut a deal with prosecutors in 2010 that required him to pay a $1,000 fine and file a guilty plea for breaking campaign finance laws. He had no jail time.
Bob Taft (R) – Ohio Governor, 1999-2007: Pleaded no contest in 2005 to four misdemeanor ethical violations regarding him failing to report “gifts” of golf outings, dinners and other boons given to him by private actors. Sentenced to pay a $4,000 fine and write an apology to the people of Ohio. No jail time.
Bill Janklow (R) – South Dakota Governor, 1979-1986, 1995-2002: Janklow was convicted of manslaughter in 2003, after his tenure as governor had expired, for crashing into and killing a motorcyclist. He was sentenced to 100 days in county jail and three-years probation. He died in 2012, aged 72.
J. Fife Symington III (R) – Arizona Governor, 1991 – 1997: Symington was convicted in 1997 of bank fraud, making false financial statements and extortion. He was slated to serve prison time, but the conviction was overturned due to jury misconduct issues and before he could be retried Pres. Clinton gave him a pardon in 2001.
H. Guy Hunt (R) – Alabama Governor, 1987-1993: Hunt was convicted by a jury in 1993 of making personal use of $200,000 donated to a tax-exempt fund for his 1987 inauguration and of violating state ethics laws. He was removed from office, asked to pay a $211,000 fine and given five years probation. Pardoned by the state in 1998, Hunt died at the age of 75 in 2009.
Jim Guy Tucker (D) – Arkansas Governor, 1992-1996: Tucker was found guilty in 1996 of fraud, conspiracy and of arranging fraudulent federally-backed loans. Though the charges were grave, he did not serve a prison term due to suffering from a serious liver disease. Instead, he was ordered to pay $294,000 back to the US Small Business administration.
David L. Walters (D) – Oklahoma Governor, 1991-1995: Plead guilty in 1995 to one out of eight felony charges, including alleged campaign contribution violations, perjury and conspiracy to hide donations. Walters’s guilty plea was part of a deal that allowed him to pay a fine and have his report expunged after twelve months. Regardless, he still personally affirms himself to be innocent.
Edward D. DiPrete (R) – Rhode Island Governor, 1985-1991: Indicted in 1994 under accusations of taking hundreds of dollars in bribes from contractors in exchange for state contracts, DiPrete would only plead guilty to 18 counts of corruption in 1998 as part of a deal that would give judicial leniency to his son, who was also implicated. DiPrete served one year in prison.
Evan Mecham (R)- Arizona Governor, 1987-1988: Mecham was ousted from office by the Arizona state legislature in 1988, under suspicion that he had obstructed justice and misused public money. This happened in tandem with him being prosecuted by federal authorities, who accused him of perjury and filing a fraudulent campaign expense report. However, prosecutors ultimately were not able to build a sufficiently strong case against him. Mecham was acquitted and went on to unsuccessfully run for office two more times in Arizona.
Dan Walker (D) – Illinois Governor, 1973-1977: Walker was convicted in 1987 due to his activities as chairman of the board and CEO of First American Savings and Loans, which involved siphoning money off the bank for personal use, which rendered him charges of perjury, bank fraud and misapplication of bank funds. Although sentenced to seven years in prison, Walker was released after 17 ½ months because of his frail health and good behavior. He died in 2015, aged 92.
Marvin Mandel (D) – Maryland Governor, 1969-1977: Though Mandel is to this day remembered favorably by many in his old constituency, he was indicted in 1975 in connection with a conspiracy set around making a profit from the Marlboro Race Track in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. In 1977, a federal jury found Mandel and five others guilty of “defrauding the people of Maryland”. He started serving a 19-month sentence in July 1979, though Pres. Reagan commuted it to time served in 1981. He died in 2015, aged 95.
Wally Barron (D) – West Virginia Governor, 1961-1965: Barron was indicted along with five others in 1968 by a federal grand jury on bribery and conspiracy charges in relation to a scheme involving dummy corporations that would funnel kickbacks from those interested in doing business with the state to the accused. The jury’s decision was ultimately to acquit Barron, but convict the other five. In 1971, however, Barron and his wife were again accused by federal authorities of tampering with the 1968 jury’s decision by paying its foreman, one Ralph Buckalew, to be the lone holdout against the former governor’s conviction. Though Mrs. Barron’s name was eventually dropped from the conviction, Mr. Barron ultimately plead guilty to conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice, therefore being sentenced to 25 years in federal prison – of which he served four. He died in 2002, aged 91.
Warren McCray (R) – Indiana Governor, 1921-1924: McCray resigned his office in 1924 after a mail fraud conviction related to his his dwindling personal finances (McCray had been a millionaire before his election, and was hit hard by diminishing land values in Indiana). Sentenced to three years in federal prison, he was eventually pardoned by Pres. Herbert Hoover in 1930 and passed away in 1938.
William Woods Holden (R) – North Carolina Governor, 1868-1871: The circumstances of Holden’s impeachment were odd yet momentous. He was one of the first American governors to be impeached, and due to a “war” his government fought against the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina in 1870. Holden had organized the state militia to combat the activities of the Klan in his jurisdiction (who were suspected of having assassinated a local Republican senator and of lynching an African-American police officer named Wyatt Outlaw, as well as other violent activities), a which eventually caused the enactment of martial law and the suspension of the right of habeas corpus towards klan members. Becoming known as the Kirk-Holden War (named also after one Col. George Washington Kirk, a Civil War veteran who led the militia), the conflict quickly proved itself controversial and unpopular towards Holden. After the Democratic Party gained the upper hand in the state legislature in the 1870 elections, Holden was soundly impeached in 1871 by a majority of legislators, many of whom had ties to or were amiable towards the KKK. He was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors, basically under the pretext that the actions his government took during the war, such as rescinding habeas corpus, were extreme and harmful to the state’s citizens. He died in 1892.
Joel Aldrich Matteson (D) – Illinois Governor, 1853-1857: Matteson was charged in 1859 for fraudulently claiming a scrip (a sort of IOU or warranty document) for work done on a local canal improvement project for himself, the scrip being worth over $200,000. Though indicted by a federal grand jury, he ultimately only had to pay back a large portion of that amount and was not imprisoned or punished otherwise.