Vrdolyak Ties to Hitman Reveal Seedy Side of Political Career
The “Ed Vrdolyak” name weaves like rotten thread through a scenario of mobsters, reputed hitmen, sleazy political deals, wayward Chicago and County police, and crooked politicians. His meeting with the late mob boss Joseph Ferriola has been reported, and his relationship to Chicago’s mob controlled First Ward are legendary. (He was also named in the federal conviction of Ald. Jesse Evans, also.)
Many Chicago cops and suburban sheriffs think that Vrdolyak is on their side. The truth is, some cops associated with the Vrdolyak name or that travel in the same circles as Vrdolyak have brought embarrassment to the Police Department and to honest cops — the honest cops are the ones who always seem to lose the most in Chicago’s political whirlwinds.
For years, Vrdolyak was the reigning boss of Cicero, Al Capone’s old hangout, where Vrdolyak now calls all the shots. It’s not his only client, but it is one of his biggest, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in undetailed consulting fees.
It’ not surprising that the Vrdolyak name constantly surfaces in the sleaziest of circumstances.
The Wrong Man Murder Case
It seems like yesterday that Vrdolyak found himself in the middle of another controversy, the murder of a Florida agricultural inspector, killed in a botched-up hit ordered by a crew of dirty former Chicago cops involved in a Florida to Chicago drug smuggling ring.
The key figure in the April 14, 1979 murder of Florida Agricultural inspector Austin Dewey Gay, 61, was Joseph Sallas. The case against Sallas and a bevy of former Chicago cops and associates was brought to trial in 1983, and became known as the “Wrong Man Murder.”
When the trial ended at least six former Chicago cops admitted to some criminal role surrounding the “Wrong Man Murder” case.
Sallas was recruited to kill an agricultural inspector named Leonard Pease. Pease had stumbled upon two former Chicago cops who were smuggling drugs through Florida to Chicago in their van.
Having stopped the men, Pease saw a handgun on the seat between them and smelled the 400 pounds of marijuana stashed in the back of the truck. He then ordered the men out of the car, spread eagle with their hands on Pease’s car.
The two officers turned and grabbed Pease, somewhat of a Barney Fife character, disarming and handcuffing him. For several hours with Pease handcuffed in the back of the truck, the two former cops argued about whether they should kill him and dump the body, or leave him tied to a nearby tree.
Bewildered and not wanting to commit murder, yet, the two smugglers confronted Pease saying they would leave him tied to a tree. Pease pleaded, saying that if they did, a bear from the nearby swamps would kill him.
They finally agreed to handcuff him to the pew of a nearby church. Pease again pleaded with his captors to leave his handgun, because, he said, he was responsible for it and would have to pay the department to get a new one and he didn’t have the money.
They left the gun on another nearby pew.
Pease later went to Florida state prosecutors and filed criminal charges against the two former cops, identified by Pease and by fingerprints left by them on Pease’s car.
Fearing they would be identified and now in Chicago, the former cops decided to kill Pease, and they turned to a man who was so close to Vrdolyak, many believed he was a part of Vrdolyak’s family.
Sallas, the brother of a respected and well known South Side media columnist, once served as the muscle behind the Vrdolyak myth, a real-life political enforcer who could stare you down and keep the troops in line.
About a month later, according to prosecutors, Sallas went down to Florida and tried to identify the man he had been hired to kill, based on descriptions given to him by the former cops. Sallas came up behind Austin Dewey Gay and shot him in the head. His body was discovered six days later. Florida police quickly concluded that Pease was the real target and that Gay had been misidentified by the killer.
Vrdolyak, whose alleged ties to mob types and mobbed up politicians has haunted him for decades surfaced as the powerbroker in the town that Ernest Rocco Infelise once controlled before he was sent to jail in 1992.
This is just another story that jumps out at you from the Vrdolyak portfolio.
The Tellez Murder
Who is Joe Sallas?
For starters, like many people, you might have thought Sallas was a member of the Vrdolyak’s personal family.
Sallas lived for several years in a house owned by Vrdolyak. Sallas’ wife, Sylvia, tooled around in a $325-a-month car leased by Vrdolyak while her husband sat in a Florida slammer awaiting trial in the “Wrong Man Murder.”
And, Vrdolyak’s law firm has represented Sallas, fronting for him in soliciting legal flexibility and consideration in numerous cases.
Vrdolyak sponsored Sallas for his job working for the City of Chicago, as a $37,128-a-year iron inspector and Vrdolyak organization precinct captain.
Vrdolyak is also the Godfather of one of Sallas’ sons, and Vrdolyak’s brother Peter is Godfather of another.
Sallas refers to Vrdolyak with the respect of a military genius. “He’s my General,” Sallas told reporters.
Although acquitted of the actual murder, Sallas was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to 30 years, a sentence he continues to serve in a Florida penitentiary.
The main reason Sallas was acquitted was that the prosecution’s star witness, one of the cops, died following a heart attack before he could testify. As a result, the jury acquitted Sallas and his cohorts on charges of First Degree Murder, and convicted them on charges of Conspiracy to Commit murder.
But The FBI has suspected Sallas in more than a half dozen murders, including one for which he was charged with in 1973. Prosecutors charged in their indictment that Sallas was a “hired professional killer” who was paid $7,500 for the contract to murder Pease, killing Gay instead.
In July of 1973, he reportedly got into an altercation with a man who tried to collect a debt from one of his sons. Sallas was indicted on the charge.
Reportedly, Sallas put a gun to the head of Alexander Tellez, who allegedly had a long criminal history, after Tellez had come to Sallas’ home at 9300 S. Muskegon Ave., to collect the outstanding money. Sallas, holding the gun to his temple, reportedly warned the man, do you dare me to kill you.
Witnesses said Sallas pulled the trigger killing Tellez, who was only 19 years old at the time, and you would have thought that would put Sallas in jail then. But Sallas turned to his “pal,” Ed Vrdolyak for legal support.
Vrdolyak personally escorted Sallas when he surrendered to police, and Vrdolyak’s firm represented Sallas. In a judicial style found only in the trials of the sleazy and the soiled, it seems that Vrdolyak’s firm managed to move the case through three different judges, after Sallas claimed that each of the judges was “biased” towards him.
Finally, the case landed before Judge Dan Ryan, who, refusing to send it to a jury, ruled on it himself, declaring Sallas innocent.
The fact that Ryan and Vrdolyak, later the powerful Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Organization which slates judges, were also friends, or that Judge Ryan may have been at many of Vrdolyak’s notoriously lavish backyard barbecues, meant nothing and means nothing today in the context of Cook County’s trashy judicial system where judge’s are manipulated by powerful political influences.
Even before Sallas was arrested, Vrdolyak was alleged to have managed to get police to delay his arrest so that Sallas, who once bragged him could put up a thousand political signs in one night, could work in the 1983 anti-Harold Washington mayoral election campaign. That is according to Lennard Register, the Florida Prosecutor.
Imagine, a man so powerful he could tell the police not to do their jobs. Don’t arrest this man who I represent and who is wanted in a vicious murder, because I need him to put up campaign posters in my election bid? Vrdolyak denied he ever did that.
But even after Sallas was convicted and sent to jail, Vrdolyak’s power managed to get Sallas unprecedented visitations to Chicago, reportedly to visit a “sick relative” and to attend his daughter’s wedding.
Much of that power comes from Vrdolyak’s powerful friendships, that include shady characters linked to mobsters, crooked cops and crooked politicians, many of whom are or have served time in jail.
Among his closest pals were the two former Sheriff’s of Cook County, Richard J. Elrod and James E. O’Grady. Elrod reigned like a blind king of an empire of crooked sheriff’s police who were involved in more murder and mayhem than some of the mobsters who followed in Capone’s shadow. Several were convicted in the murder of Moraine Valley Community College Board Trustee Diane G. Masters.
Sources have insisted all along that Vrdolyak exploited his friendships with O’Grady and with his chief deputy, the now convicted Jim Dvorak. Like Vrdolyak, Dvorak also at one time controlled County politicians, serving as the Republican Party chairman and also acting allegedly as a liaison to Cicero’s mobsters, including Ernest Rocco Infelise.
Dvorak attended the wake for mobster Frank “Baldy” Maltese in 1993. Dvorak hid in a corner during the wake as people walked up to kiss his widow’s ring at the Roosevelt Road funeral home. He didn’t want to be seen.
Sallas, while on the unprecedented leave from the Florida penitentiary, was escorted by O’Grady’s sheriff’s deputies.
Vrdolyak has publicly denied many of these charges, and his assertions were re-published by newspaper columnists friendly to him.
Vrdolyak asserted he never delayed the serving of the arrest warrant for Sallas. He admitted that he has known the Sallas family for 25 years.
No one has ever said that Vrdolyak was involved in the planning or execution of the hit in Florida.
And, Vrdolyak has, incredulously, always argued that he was just a member of the law firm that has helped Sallas, even though he is the power behind that law firm which has offices today throughout Cook County.
But Ed Vrdolyak must find it strange that his name always seems to crop up in the smoldering ashes of a mob-connected story in a Twilight Zone like scenario involving such a close personal friend as Joseph “I’m Just a Vrdolyak Trooper” Sallas.