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The “bad guys” win one, world freaks out

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* You’d think the world was coming to an end

According to U.S. District Court Judge Milton I. Shadur, Former Chicago Alderman and judicial kingmaker Eddie Vrdolyak is not an insider.

And when Vrdolyak agreed to act as a “finder” for a crooked land deal in which he knew the fix was in and he would have to split that finder’s fee with a crooked school board member who would steer the sale to Vrdolyak’s client, that was not a “kickback,” Shadur said.

When the school board, because of the crooked board member, passed up a $15.5 million bid for its property and instead took the $15 million crooked bid, that did not represent a tangible, calculable loss to the school of $500,000, Shadur said.

After finding all of that, Judge Shadur then called Eddie Vrdolyak “a good man” and let him go free.

With no prison time, and not a penny in restitution to the school.

* More

It was supposed to be the day of reckoning for former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, the day he at last got sent to prison for an inside deal after what some say was a career built on them.

Instead, Chicago witnessed what seemed like another “Fast Eddie” moment.

* More

If you didn’t know the federal judiciary in Chicago was considered to be on the square, if you didn’t know that Judge Milton Shadur had built a reputation of integrity over three decades on the bench, if you didn’t know both those things, then you might suspect the fix was in Thursday for the benefit of Edward R. Vrdolyak.

As it is, I guess we’ll have to come up with other explanations for Shadur’s almost indefensible decision to allow Fast Eddie to continue his charmed existence by walking out of the Dirksen Federal Building with no jail time — even if no other explanation but a fix will ring true to corruption-weary Chicagoans.

* But lots of people believed that the original indictment was a real stretch. Here’s the meat of the judge’s argument

Shadur said he drew a line between Levine’s corruption and Vrdolyak’s role in the matter. He noted Vrdolyak had worked to bump up Smithfield’s initial offer of $9.5 million and that there seemed to be no concrete offers on the table that would have made any more money.

Shadur, who has a background in real estate law, said finder’s fees are a recognized part of such transactions and few real estate deals involve truly open bidding. […]

Shadur sometimes sparred with Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Niewoehner and cut him off as the prosecutor noted that Vrdolyak had connections to the powerful in Chicago.

“We do not sentence stick figures,” the judge said. “We do not sentence them because of what people might think about them.”

Shadur was right to cut off the prosecutor on that last point. And I’m pretty sure he’s right on the finder’s fee point.

* From the US Attorney…

“We strongly but respectfully disagree with the sentence of probation imposed on defendant Vrdolyak. 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 involving the sale of a non-profit university’s valuable real estate asset.

“We will carefully consider appropriate options, including an appeal. We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute people who corrupt public or private boards through kickbacks and insider-dealing.”

Do you think Fitzgerald should appeal this sentence?

* Another win for Fast Eddie

* Ex-Chicago pol Vrdolyak gets $50K fine, probation

* Former Alderman Vrdolyak Avoids Prison

* Judge’s ‘respect for the law and integrity are unquestioned’

* ‘Fast Eddie’ a disgrace and a hero

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - The 'Broken Heart' of Rogers Park - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:04 am:

    ===Chicago witnessed what seemed like another “Fast Eddie” moment.===

    Age hasn’t slowed down “Fast Eddie.” Still one step ahead of the system.

  2. - Dan S, a Voter, Taxpayer and Cubs Fan - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:05 am:

    What did that sentence cost him?

  3. - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:06 am:

    Shadur’s comments seem a little contradictory. Why give him probation, if, as the article implies, he believed Fast Eddie bumped up the price and why just getting a standard finder’s fee?

    The meat of the matter is that Fast Eddie agreed to kick back part of the finder’s fee to Levine, a school board member. That’s clearly illegal, and that’s what he pled guilty to.

    I can’t find it in the articles, but didn’t Shadur throw out the federal sentencing guidelines here?

    For the tinfoil types, I mentioned yesterday that Shadur was appointed on Sen. Stevenson’s recommendation. Fast Eddie ran Adlai’s campaign where he almost beat Thompson.

  4. - IrishPirate - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:18 am:

    I tend to think that Mark Brown is on to something. Judge Shadur is likely just “over the hill” and trying to impress the “yungins” with his wit and depth of knowledge.

    I doubt there is any corruption involved in the sentencing.

    I think I understand some of the points the Judge was making, but overall he missed the larger point. This was corruption aimed against a non profit and if the Feds hadn’t intervened would have resulted in that non profit losing over a million dollars.

    The Fast One should be wearing an orange jumpsuit for a few years. Fitzgerald should appeal the sentence and perhaps someone should tap Judge Shadur on his 80+ year old shoulders and suggest it is time to go to “Senior” status as a judge. Retire.

  5. - Levois - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:20 am:

    Well I know more about his court case today than I would have otherwise followed. Not sure if there is a basis for appeal and it sounds like the judge knows what he’s talking about. I suppose on the federal level the judge has latitude in sentencing.

  6. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:21 am:

    Rich -

    Here’s the thing about Shadur that disturbs me:

    “[Shadur] went on to cite 50-plus letters supporters had written on Vrdolyak’s behalf. The letters were not made part of the public record.

    Citing Vrdolyak’s good works with charities and kindness to friends, he said he was “surprised” that he had concluded Vrdolyak did not deserve prison time.

    Prior to finding the calculation at zero and reading the letters, Shadur said, “I would not have dreamed of imposing a noncustodial sentence.”

    Vrdolyak gets off thanks to a letter-writing campaign, and the letters aren’t even made part of the public record?

    There’s the grounds for appealing the sentence, I think.

  7. - Amy - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:22 am:

    yes, go for it Fitz. the sentence is soft, as is the judge.

  8. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:25 am:

    ===Vrdolyak gets off thanks to a letter-writing campaign===

    I don’t believe the judge said he based his decision on the letters.

  9. - Niles Township - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:26 am:

    I hear his son is throwing a big party at the club.

  10. - VanillaMan - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:28 am:

    Vrdolyak is a brown crushed velvet veloured, leisure-suit wearing, hustler with neck chains, heavy side burns, a pimp hat and a Fire-engine red 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix.

    He is distasteful, overstyled, obsolete, but - a unique devil blaring Al Green’s “Take Me To The River”, as he swings the Prix’s massive door invitingly, displaying it’s padded vinyl, faux burrled walnut accessories and gives you a wink.

    As the smoke from his lit Tijuana Small wafts out of the back seat, you can make out a pair of lovely Tina Turner legs and a bright smile through the opera window.

    You know we should just junk this entire embarrassment, but you have too many happy memories in that back seat.

    Congratulations Fast Eddie in showing us that you can still hustle like in the old days.

  11. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:34 am:

    === I don’t believe the judge said he based his decision on the letters. ===


    That’s EXACTLY what he said.

    Check my excerpt from the Daily Herald story above.

  12. - oddsmaker - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:35 am:

    C’mon, Eddie go to jail? As a long time SouthEAST sider, if you never lived there, you have NO clue as to the image or reputation of ERV. That’s why the whiners (who are complaining that “JUSTICE WASN’T SERVED”) can turn on NPR, sip their apple juice or white wine and watch clips from 44’s inauguration and feel better about their world.
    The world of the 10th Ward is like nothing in Chicago or for that matter the USA. Go there sometime… and check it out. The whites are still there but now living with more Latino’s and Blacks than in the past. It’s dull, gray and full of vacant/abandoned areas of an industrial boom of the 1960’s -early 80’s…its the closet thing to a time warp. It was ERV’s kingdom. He has tons of $$ so why hasn’t he moved, as he has homes elsewhere? Because he knows his subjects respect him and yes, some LOVE him to this day after being out of elected office for over 25 years. Long live the King and the next round at Steve’s Lounge in Hegewisch will be on ERV’s tab.

  13. - Bill - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:36 am:

    Good for you, Eddie.
    Good for you.

  14. - Anon - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:42 am:

    The federal sentencing guidelines are, at least in some substantial part, based on whatever “loss” or “gain” the crime at issue either caused or resulted in.

    Lost in all of the harumphing in the papers are two key facts: (1) the “finder’s fee” was never paid; and (2) as part of his plea, Vrdolyak agreed to assign the fee to the foundation.

    For purposes of the sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed the “loss” incurred by the school was $2 million. The judge found that — in reality — the loss was zero. Calculating the loss at zero evidently resulted in a sentencing guideline range of 0-6 months.

    In an ordinary world, people would be shocked that someone (even Vrdolyak) would have to plead guilty to a felony and serve 5 years of probation and pay a fine of $50,000 for attempting to share a real estate “finder’s fee.”

    In the Brave New World we live in under the watchful eye of the sainted Patrick Fitzgerald, we have columnists who know absolutely nothing about the law denigrating a federal judge of long-standing integrity for not playing up to their Judge Roy Bean-inspired expectations.

    The indictment was ridiculous. So is much of what is being done today in the name of “justice” at 219 South Dearborn.

    Chances are probably better than 50/50 that — instead of appealing — they vindictively indict Vrdolyak for some other puffed up “crime.”

    (Witness Nicholas Hurtgen)

  15. - Belle - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:44 am:

    YDD-I’d like to know what was in those letters and who wrote them. Wouldn’t you? The judge did say he was only thinking prison time before he read them. A Fast Eddie moment? More like a John ‘Teflon Don’ Gotti moment to me.

  16. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:50 am:

    You people are misreading stories. It wasn’t the freaking letters.

  17. - True Observer - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:54 am:

    How come all the apologists always show up.

    Fact is the judiciary in Illinois is no less political than the ward aldermen.

    Vito Marzullo used to say he had his own circuit judge at his beck and call.

    You didn’t become a judge without going through the ward organization.

    Interestingly, and never pointed out, Chief Judge Fitzgerald, who presided over the Impeachment Trial came out of the organization.

    His father was a circuit judge.

    So he and his father are/were products of Chicago machine politics.

  18. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 11:59 am:

    Rich -

    I wasn’t in the courtroom, so maybe the DH is misreporting it, but they did say that Shadur weighed the fifty letters as A FACTOR in deciding not to give him jailtime.

    Shadur also cited his “30 years as a lawyer in real estate transactions” in finding “there was nothing unusual in such a finder’s fee.”

    That shows that Shadur was considering all sorts of things not entered into evidence.

  19. - Scooby - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 12:14 pm:

    John Kass must be rolling over in Jay Marriotti’s grave.

  20. - ThreeSheets - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 12:45 pm:

    YDD -

    I was in the courtroom and the letters were not THE factor, but were a factor in Judge Shadur’s determination of various factors under the sentencing statue, commonly called the 3553(a) factors. Judge Shadur rambled a bit and wasn’t the most coherent in issuing the sentence; witness his digression about Harold Washington appearing before his committee at the CBA charged with pocketing money for work never done.

  21. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 12:45 pm:

    I don’t think its fair to accuse Shadur of being dishonest, and I’m certainly not doing that.

    I simply question THIS judgment and why I think its likely to be appealed, based on the judge’s own statements.

  22. - chiatty - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 1:03 pm:

    Fitzgerald should not appeal the judge’s decision. The judge had the discretion to give Vrdolyak probation and a fine and that’s what he did. This was a somewhat shaky prosecution in the first place. You have to credit the defendant and his defense team for having the guts to plead guilty and ask for mercy from the court. In one sense, it was a pretty crafty move, because federal court juries have been convicting political figures of pretty skinny charges in past years (Sorich, Sullivan et al. being the most prominent garbage prosecutions), so they were smart not to put Vrdolyak’s fate with a jury. Had he been convicted, he surely would have faced several years in prison and a huge financial penalty. On the other hand, unlike other prosecutions, Vrdolyak had a good chance to walk on this case, because Levine is obviously the crooked straw that stirred this criminal drink. The jury may have seen that this was a Levine production through and through and may have given Vrdolyak a pass. Bottom line: the judge made a good call and Fitzgerald should take a line from the Pretenders song and “stop all [his] sobbing. Even the US Attorneys lose a case every once in a while, for Pete’s sake.

  23. - Legaleagle - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 2:46 pm:

    Judge Shadur is one of the smartest men I have ever known. The US Attorney’s Office needs to be knocked down a bit, as they do tend to overreach from time to time. Some of the Assistants over there can be arrogant and overbearing. I commend Judge Shadur for having the courage to do his job as a check on power and hubris! The USA Office will not hire any more of his law clerks after this!

  24. - G-View - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 2:48 pm:

    Yeah but it’s the same thing Hurgen is getting. Five-gets-you-ten thar Grady (northside Irish?) is buddy-buddy with Hurtgen (Sacred Heart Parish) buddies. Can we believe the pass he seemed to try and give Hurtgen? In one moment the guy is saying the feds have no case and doing everything he can to throw the case out (including throwing the case out) then Hurtgen pleads guilty and then Grady’s saying “your at the center” and it wasn’t possible without you but you might only get 22.5 months which, with good behavior in club fed, is less than a year!

    This for the guy- Hurtgen- with out whom there would have been no investigation into Blago.

    Listen, Hurtgen isn’t in Fast Eddie’s class- he’s actually less respectable becaue at least Fast Eddie was honest about being a crook- but I mean let’s not start take things out of context by issuing silly sentencing from the bench. It kind of undermines Fitz work.

    This guy Hurtgen was at the center- he facilitated the whole thing- he was on the plane ride (he paid Kjellander about $1MM for a “no-work” deal half of which went apparently to Rezko) shouldn’t these things mean something…

    Fast Eddie is at least a respectable “gangster” type from the old school I give him props for that. These guys like Rezko, Levine, Hurtgen, Kelly etc did it only for themselves. Bad guys like Fast Eddie did it for themselves but for others- some good some bad.

    “It’s an interesting moral dilemma”.

  25. - red dog - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 3:45 pm:

    good to see that chicago hasn’t changed-please appeal this ridiculous sentence

  26. - Angry Chicagoan - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 5:19 pm:

    WBBM-AM news radio actually did a surprisingly good job of explaining it. Amazing how a station whose very existence depends on ten second sound bites does a better job of depth reporting than the Beltway media would. As much as Vrdolyak makes my skin crawl, has to be said the US prosecutor’s sentence demand was harsh for this particular conviction.

  27. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 27, 09 @ 8:59 pm:

    …even if no other explanation but a fix will ring true to corruption-weary Chicagoans.

    I don’t know whether that’s a good assumption when it comes to Vrdolyak. chiatty and oddsmaker are right in a alot of ways, except his good deeds are not as “constrained” as others have posted or as 50 letters would even begin to reflect.

  28. - Beowulf - Sunday, Mar 1, 09 @ 6:48 am:

    Fast Eddie could not be allowed to go to jail. He knows where too many of the bodies are buried. If he had gotten a normal sentence for his crime, Fitzgerald could have used that as leverage to get him to “tell tales” on the Chicago and Cook County Machine. That was never going to happen. A collective sigh of relief went up when Fast Eddie got off with being sent to his room without his supper by the judge (soon destined to be advanced in his judicial career).

    Final score: Chicago Machine 1 — Patrick Fitzgerald 0

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