Chicago's 'Fast Eddie' alderman headed for trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

Edward R. Vrdolyak was the tough, street-wise leader of white aldermen in a spectacular feud with the city's first black mayor 25 years ago. He lost that fight but went on to get rich as a deal maker at the shadowy fringes of Chicago politics.

"His nickname has always been Fast Eddie, that gives you the flavor," says Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association of Chicago.

These days, however, Fast Eddie's fight is with federal prosecutors. Jury selection is due to begin Monday for the 69-year-old former alderman's trial on charges of receiving a kickback in a real estate deal.

The charges stem from the same investigation that led to the fraud conviction of influence peddler Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the political fundraiser who helped to bankroll the campaigns of Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Alleged kickback at issue
The indictment charges the one-time Cook County Democratic chairman arranged to get a kickback for attorney Stuart Levine in the sale of a piece of property for $15 million.

Levine, expected to be the government's star witness, has pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges involving Rezko and a plan to use political clout to squeeze various businesses for $7 million in kickbacks. Levine testified at the Rezko trial that he had been involved in several shady deals with Vrdolyak.

The indictment against Vrdolyak charges that Levine made certain that a development company would be the buyer of the property. It says Vrdolyak was to get a $1.5 million fee from the buyer and share it later with Levine.

Vrdolyak is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery. The fraud charges carry maximum sentences of 20 years and $250,000 fines and the bribery count carries a maximum of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. Vrdolyak would be unlikely to get anything like the maximum sentence even if convicted on all of the charges.

Defense attorney Michael Monico scoffed at the government's claims.

"The allegations are not true, he did not enter into a scheme with Mr. Levine and never paid him any money or offered to pay him any money," Monico said.

Leader of a rebellion
Vrdolyak was leader of 29 rebellious white aldermen, remnants of the once mighty Chicago Machine, who clashed daily with Mayor Harold Washington, the favorite of black voters and of anti-Machine independents.

Washington eventually was able to command a majority on the City Council and Vrdolyak's rebellion fizzled.

Vrdolyak ran for mayor twice, lost both times, switched parties and drifted into the life of a successful deal maker.

Loyola University political scientist Alan Gitelson, a longtime student of Chicago politics, says that as an alderman Vrdolyak did much good for the community.

"He worked hard for the city and he worked hard for himself," says Gitelson. "He was concerned about the welfare of the city and he was concerned about the welfare of Ed Vrdolyak. And sometimes those things worked out very well and sometimes those things were in conflict."