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Stock trader on trial for murder of his best friend

Prosecutors say Michael Pelko killed his longtime friend Izat Morrar over money Pelko owed Morrar.

Michael Pelko, 43, was found guilty of 2017 killing of Izat Morrar.
Michael Pelko, 37, a stock trader from Willow Springs, is on trial for the murder of his best friend, Izat Morrar.
Cook County Jail photo

Michael Pelko was a stock trader and a suburban dad, and in his off hours he coached little league, allegedly sold drugs and, one day two years ago, allegedly killed his best friend over an unpaid debt, prosecutors said Monday as Pelko’s trial opened for the 2017 murder of Izat Morrar.

Pelko and Morrar had been friends since childhood, and Morrar worked just around the corner from Pelko’s office at the Chicago Board of Trade. On the afternoon July 20, 2017, Morrar got into Pelko’s silver SUV outside CBOT. Hours later, his body was found in an alley in the 5300 block of South Calumet Avenue, shot twice in the head, his pockets emptied and his shoes removed.

A search of Morrar’s office a few days later turned up a shoebox with $27,450 in cash in a drawer in his desk, and a coded ledger book with another $1,400 stuffed inside it. Detectives found a half-kilo of marijuana in the drop ceiling of Pelko’s house in Willow Springs, and testing showed traces of Morrar’s blood in the cushions of Pelko’s SUV. Pelko was not charged until January.

In opening statements Monday, Pelko’s lawyers noted that Pelko indeed had his share of problems but suggested that he was a small player in the drug dealing his boyhood friend, Morrar, was engaged in.

“Like many of us, Mr. Pelko had demons ... Mr. Pelko had developed a drug habit. On occasion, he would sell marijuana to people at the Chicago Board of Trade,” attorney Vadim Glozman told jurors. “Mr. Pelko came to know and associate with people he believed were dangerous. What the evidence is going to show was that (Morrar) was associated with the same dangerous people ... the evidence will show Izat Morrar was a heavily involved drug dealer.”

Surveillance cameras showed Morrar getting into Pelko’s car on Clark Street downtown, and, a few hours later, the same silver SUV in the alley where Morrar’s body was found. Morrar had complained that Pelko owed him money around the time he was killed. But there’s no video or witness of Morrar being shot.

The day Morrar was killed, Pelko was home with his family, helping his kids run a lemonade stand, Glozman said. And Morrar had left the house in Pelko’s SUV with a third friend, and Pelko did not leave the house until hours later, for a pizza party for his kids’ baseball team.

Morrar’s girlfriend, Melanie Cruz, testified that she and Morrar texted each other constantly, and that each of them could track the other’s movements using their phones. The day Morrar disappeared, Cruz said he simply stopped texting and the locator app said his location was “unavailable,” meaning the phone was out of battery or turned off.

Cruz and Morrar had been looking to buy a house, but, Glozman noted, Morrar never mentioned the bundles of cash he had hidden at his office.

“There was part of Izat’s life that you knew nothing about, that’s correct?” Glozman asked Cruz.

“No, that’s not true,” Cruz said.

“Izat never told you he was keeping a shoebox full of money?” Glozman asked.

“If he was trying to surprise me with a ring, I don’t think that was something he would tell me,” she replied.