Brothers Sentenced To Life In Prison For Murder In Aid Of Racketeering Involving False Identification Document Ring
CHICAGO — Two brothers were sentenced today to life in federal prison for murder in aid of racketeering and related crimes they were convicted of after a seven-week trial in U.S. District Court last year. JULIO and MANUEL LEIJA-SANCHEZ, who operated a lucrative, black-market counterfeit identification document business in Chicago’s Little Village community for at least 15 years, each received the mandatory life sentence from U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. There is no federal parole.
The Leija-Sanchez brothers were convicted together with GERARDO SALAZARRODRIGUEZ, whom they directed to commit an execution-style murder in Mexico of a fledgling competitor. The murder plot was intended to prevent two former employees from starting a competing business and to maintain control over employees of their enterprise, which generated annual revenues of at least $3 million. Salazar-Rodriguez also faces life imprisonment and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 14.
“Julio and Manuel Leija-Sanchez were the kingpins of a decades-long, multimilliondollar international criminal organization and they killed to protect their own pocketbook and the empire they built,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Nasser said at today’s sentencing hearing.
Evidence at trial showed that Salazar-Rodriguez, at the direction of Julio and Manuel Leija-Sanchez, fired more than a dozen shots in killing one of the victims in his taxi cab near Mexico City in April 2007, and the jury heard transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations in which he boasted to the brothers after the murder. He and Manuel Leija-Sanchez also hunted for a second victim whom they believed was in Mexico at the time but who was actually in federal custody in Chicago. That intended victim, who pleaded guilty to fraudulent identification document charges, cooperated and testified as a government witness at trial.
The case was part of Operation Paper Tiger, an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, along with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. In April 2007, the investigation resulted in charges against 24 defendants and the dismantling of the Leija-Sanchez fraudulent document organization that operated in and around the Little Village Discount Mall at West 26th and Albany in Chicago. All but three defendants who remain fugitives were convicted.
Manuel Leija-Sanchez, 46, and Salazar-Rodriguez, 41, were arrested later in Mexico and were extradited to the United States in 2010 and 2011 to stand trial, together with Julio Leija- Sanchez, 38, who was arrested in Chicago in 2007. A third Leija-Sanchez brother, Pedro, 41, was also arrested in Mexico and extradited to the U.S in 2011. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to racketeering conspiracy for operating the fraudulent ID ring with his brothers and was sentenced last March to 20 years in prison.
Evidence at trial showed that the three Leija-Sanchez brothers operated the bustling illegal business between 1993 and 2007. The organization was supervised by an overall leader living in Chicago, and the leadership position rotated among the Leija-Sanchez brothers. The organization sold as many as 100 sets of fraudulent identification documents each day, charging customers approximately $200 per “set,” consisting of a Social Security card and either an immigration “green card” or a state driver’s license.
Manuel and Julio Leija-Sanchez and Salazar-Rodriguez conspired to murder Guillermo Jimenez-Flores, also known as “Montes,” a former member of their organization who became a rival and was shot to death by Salazar-Rodriguez in Mexico. The three trial defendants were also convicted of conspiracy to kill a second victim, Bruno Freddy Ramirez-Camela, who they believed was in Mexico but was actually incarcerated in Chicago.
The sentences were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Gary Hartwig, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI in Chicago. Also participating in the investigation were the Chicago Police Department and the Galveston, Tex., Police Department, and the Chicago offices of the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Government of Mexico and Mexican law enforcement partners also provided significant assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Nasser, Andrew Porter and William Ridgway.