No jail time for ex-Chicago alderman

February 26, 2009 4:32:59 PM PST
Former Chicago alderman Ed Vrdolyak will not be going to prison. He walked out of the Dirksen Federal Building on Thursday afternoon after a judge sentenced him to five years' probation for arranging a payoff in a real estate deal. The prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Vrdolyak to 41 months in prison.

Judge Milton Schrader said he had been bombarded by dozens of letters in support of the man known as "Fast Eddie."

Ed Vrdolyak is not the man that millions of Chicagoans have come to know over the decades through his public persona. At least that was the theme throughout nearly five hours of sentencing on Thursday that culminated with the judge verbally shredding the government's case.

Despite entering a guilty plea and losing his law license, Vrdolyak's vindication of sorts came when it was time for the judge to announce his sentencing. The former alderman will face five years of probation, a $50,000 fine and 2,500 hours of community service.

Federal prosecutors thought they had an understanding. One of Chicago's most infamous political wheelers and dealers would plead guilty in exchange for a roughly three-year prison sentence plus a restitution payment.

Judge Milton Shadur had a different notion. At various moments throughout the day, the judge called the government's case against Vrdolyak overkill, greedy, and troublesome. The judge told prosecutors that the government trying to extract money from Vrdolyak is like saying it's acceptable for the United States to practice extortion on somebody just because he violated a criminal statute and he's a bad guy.

U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald says he strongly disagrees with the judge's decision to let Vrdolyak off without prison time.

Fitzgerald released a statement saying, "As we argued in court, we believe a sentence of incarceration was appropriate for a defendant who schemed to share a $1.5 million fee with a corrupt insider."

Vrdolyak's larger-than-life reputation created during the revolt he led from the city council floor against the late mayor Harold Washington surfaced during sentencing. But there was no mention of the millions in legal fees Vrdolyak made from taxpayers while representing larger-than-life former town president Betty Maltese.

Prosecutors wanted Vrdolyak to pay the Chicago Medical School at least $1.5 million. He pled guilty to scheming to pocket a finder's fee from a Gold Coast real estate deal that was for the nonprofit school. The former 10th ward alderman said in court on Thursday he is guilty of trying to help a friend, convicted political fixture Stewart Levine.

"I know what I did was wrong," Vrdolyak said. "I did it because Stewart Levine was my friend. He said he needed some money, wanted money and I said it was fine. It was wrong."

"In looking at the entirety of the man's life and the good works he's performed, and the lack of any criminal history, it seems to us that it rang out for this type of sentence. And we're very pleased the judge found it," said Michael Monico, Vrdolyak's attorney.

A symbol of the size of this setback for federal prosecutors, Patrick Fitzgerald, who was watching the proceedings, decided against speaking to the media after the sentence was announced.

It is standard procedure for judges to read a statement to defendants after sentencing, one that tells them that they have the right to appeal their sentence. When the judge in this case read that statement to Ed Vrdolyak, he just leaned back in his chair, smiled, and shook his head no.