Former Ald. Ed Vrdolyak was sentenced to five years probation, a $50,000 fine and 2,500 hours of community service for arranging a $1.5 million payoff in a real estate deal when he was still in office. "Fast Eddie," as he was called, is known for the Council Wars that challenged Harold Washington's first term as mayor.
Former Ald. Ed Vrdolyak will likely face prison time after an appellate court on Friday overturned a probation-only sentence.
A divided federal appeals court compared the probation Vrdolyak received in a real estate fraud case to a slap on the wrist and ordered a fresh sentencing by a new judge.
The decision to give Vrdolyak probation shocked just about everyone in Chicago's legal community, especially in the light of the fact that he had pled guilty.
"I think the strange thing about it, is that Judge Shadur, in articulating why he was giving probation, sort of said that he didn't believe it was a crime," said Kent College Law professor Richard Kling. And he noted that not only did the court send the case back for re-sentencing, they made clear that they wanted it heard by a different judge.
"The seventh circuit is saying, that no judge, essentially without abusing his or her discretion, could come to the conclusion that Mr. Vrdolyak shouldn't have served time."
The 16-page opinion written by Judge Richard A. Posner said District Judge Milton I. Shadur, who imposed the probation term
over protests from federal prosecutors, made a series of errors including calculating the loss in the fraud as zero when in fact it
was $1.5 million.
Former prosecutor Ron Safer said while the opinion was scathing, it was fairly typical of the direct language appellate Posner often uses in rebuking his fellow judges.
"He made it very clear that he thought the whole process was a total train wreck," Safer said. "Not only were you wrong, but we're going to take the case away from you!"
Vrdolyak has been out of politics for more than a decade but remains prominent in Chicago, often referred to by the nickname
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation last year on charges stemming from the $15 million sale of a Gold Coast building belonging to the former Chicago Medical School, now called the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.
He schemed with school board member Stuart Levine to split a $1.5 million kickback from the sale of the building to Smithfield Properties Development.
Levine became a cooperating witness in the government's probe of the deal and wore a wire on the former alderman. The sale went through, but the kickback never happened once Levine's cooperation became public.
The case will now go before a different judge, for a new hearing, and a second sentence, although Vrdolyak's lawyers do have the option of asking for a re-hearing before the full court of appeals. Or, they could appeal directly to the United States Supreme Court.
[Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals: Judge Posner's Opinion (.pdf)]