Former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak walks with his lawyers out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in March 2019 after pleading guilty to a federal tax evasion charge. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow handed Vrdolyak an 18-month prison sentence for tax evasion late last year. But he also said, “I am not going to send Mr. Vrdolyak to prison during COVID.”
Former Chicago Ald. Edward “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak could be heading to prison this summer — but his attorneys still fear “he could die” if put behind bars during the coronavirus pandemic.
Therefore, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow set a June 29 surrender date for the 83-year-old Vrdolyak during a hearing Thursday, triggering the Federal Bureau of Prisons to decide where Vrdolyak would serve his 18-month sentence for tax evasion. The judge also then left room for Vrdolyak’s lawyers to make a case that his surrender should be further delayed.
“I’m not going to jeopardize Mr. Vrdolyak’s health any more than it’s already jeopardized,” Dow said.
Dow made his decision after defense attorney Jacqueline Jacobson complained about the vaccine rollout in the Bureau of Prisons, Vrdolyak’s worsened medical condition, and an apparent recommendation from Vrdolyak’s physician that he not take the coronavirus vaccine because of concerns about Vrdolyak’s brain tumor.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu accused Vrdolyak’s lawyers of stalling.
Dow left Vrdolyak’s formal surrender date up in the air when he sentenced Vrdolyak late last year, telling lawyers in the case, “I am not going to send Mr. Vrdolyak to prison during COVID.”
Otherwise, Vrdolyak’s sentencing hearing mostly resolved a long-running tax case at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, which stemmed from Illinois’ big-time settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s. Prosecutors said Vrdolyak struck a secret deal and made $12 million off the litigation without doing any work. Vrdolyak’s lawyers argued that he helped a law firm land a contract, and it was no secret.
But that was only a backdrop to the actual crime to which Vrdolyak pleaded guilty in March 2019: Helping fellow lawyer Daniel Soso dodge taxes. And for that reason, Dow told the lawyers in December he did “not find it to be a justifiable use of the court’s resources to try to resolve” whether Vrdolyak had struck a legitimate deal from the tobacco litigation.
Rather, Vrdolyak’s sentencing hearing revolved around the former alderman’s fading health. Vrdolyak’s lawyers said he had a brain tumor among myriad other health problems, and had fallen four times in the last two years. But the judge suggested Vrdolyak should have come clean about his arrangement with Soso following his earlier fraud case that landed Vrdolyak a 10-month sentence in 2010.
Illinois’ $9.3 billion court settlement with tobacco companies also led to $188.5 million in payments to outside law firms that helped with the litigation. The feds say Soso and Vrdolyak struck a secret deal with a Washington state attorney from one of those firms, Steve Berman, to collect some of that money. Though prosecutors say Soso and Vrdolyak “did not perform any work,” Vrdolyak’s attorneys say he was “an integral part” of the reason Berman’s firm wound up working with the Illinois attorney general on the case.
Berman has not been charged with wrongdoing. Soso is already serving a two-year prison sentence and is due for release in July 2022.
The deal between the men evolved over time, and Vrdolyak agreed to deliver some of the money to Soso, records show. Vrdolyak paid Soso $1.9 million between 2000 and 2005, according to Soso’s plea agreement. Prosecutors have said Soso wound up collecting more than $3 million since 2000 from the tobacco litigation.
But Soso was dodging taxes. So the IRS served Vrdolyak’s law firm with a levy in 2005, demanding he pay the agency any money he owed to Soso. Instead, Vrdolyak stopped paying Soso and told the IRS he owed Soso nothing.
Vrdolyak continued to accept money that Soso was due, though. Then, in 2010 and 2011, Vrdolyak directed $170,242 to Soso instead of sending it to the IRS.