Vrdolyak Ties to Hitman Reveal
Seedy Side of Political Career
IPSN August 28, 1997
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 Chicagos 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 Chicagos political
For years, Vrdolyak was the reigning boss of Cicero, Al Capones old hangout, where
Vrdolyak now calls all the shots. Its 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
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
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
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 Peases 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 didnt 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 Peases 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 Vrdolyaks 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
Vrdolyaks 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, Vrdolyaks 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 Vrdolyaks brother
Peter is Godfather of another.
Sallas refers to Vrdolyak with the respect of a military genius. Hes 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
The main reason Sallas was acquitted was that the prosecutions 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 Vrdolyaks
firm represented Sallas. In a judicial style found only in the trials of the sleazy and
the soiled, it seems that Vrdolyaks firm managed to move the case through three
different judges, after Sallas claimed that each of the judges was biased
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 Vrdolyaks notoriously lavish backyard barbecues, meant nothing and means
nothing today in the context of Cook Countys trashy judicial system where
judges 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. Dont
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, Vrdolyaks power managed to get
Sallas unprecedented visitations to Chicago, reportedly to visit a sick
relative and to attend his daughters wedding.
Much of that power comes from Vrdolyaks 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 Sheriffs of Cook County, Richard J. Elrod
and James E. OGrady. Elrod reigned like a blind king of an empire of crooked
sheriffs police who were involved in more murder and mayhem than some of the
mobsters who followed in Capones 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 OGrady
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 Ciceros 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 widows ring at the
Roosevelt Road funeral home. He didnt want to be seen.
Sallas, while on the unprecedented leave from the Florida penitentiary, was escorted by
OGradys sheriffs 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
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 Im Just a Vrdolyak Trooper Sallas.
Return to the Cicero Home Page
Return to the Mob Lawyers Home Page