Former Illinois State Governor George Ryan, 69, pleaded not guilty to charges of accepting payoffs, gifts and vacations in return for helping associates profit from state contracts and leases. Mr. Ryan, a Republican, was indicted this month on federal charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail and tax fraud, and lying to law enforcement officials.

Mr. Ryan looked slightly nervous as Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer of the Federal District Court here referred to the charges against him and asked if he understood them. He answered that he did. His lawyer, Dan K. Webb, entered the plea of not guilty.

Mr. Ryan did not address reporters on his way in or out of the Dirksen Federal Building beyond a brief holiday greeting, but was expected to speak at a news conference later this afternoon.

Prosecutors have said that he and members of his family received cash, gifts and trips worth at least $167,000 while he was secretary of state and governor of Illinois.

“Basically, the State of Illinois was for sale for friends and family at times,” the United States attorney here, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, said at a news conference on Dec. 17, when he announced the 91-page indictment containing 18 counts against Mr. Ryan.

A federal grand jury charged Mr. Ryan with granting lucrative state contracts and leases to old friends over more than a decade in public office; with receiving gifts, cash and luxury vacations from them for himself and his family; and with covering all of it up when questioned by the authorities.

Governor Ryan drew worldwide notice just before the end of his four-year term last January, when he spared the lives of Illinois’ entire death row population — 171 prisoners in all — because, he said, the capital punishment system was so flawed that he could not be certain an innocent person was not among them.

That decision followed a moratorium he imposed on the death penalty in 2000, after investigations indicated that 13 innocent men had been sentenced to execution.

But a federal corruption inquiry, which in the last five years led to charges against 65 other defendants, including friends and top employees of Mr. Ryan’s, never swirled far from him throughout his term as governor. The controversy helped motivate him not to seek a second term in November 2002.

Mr. Ryan served as secretary of state from 1990 to 1998 and as governor from 1999 to 2003.

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