CHICAGO – Two brothers were sentenced Friday to life in federal prison for murder in aid of racketeering and related crimes following their convictions after a seven-week trial in U.S. District Court last year.
These life sentences resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
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 Feb. 7 from U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. There is no parole in the federal prison system.
The Leija-Sanchez brothers were both convicted along with Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez, who 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 Feb. 14.
"Julio and Manuel Leija-Sanchez were the kingpins of a decades-long, multimillion-dollar international criminal organization and they killed to protect their own pocketbook and the empire they built," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Nasser at the sentencing hearing.
Evidence at trial showed that Salazar-Rodriguez, at the direction of Julio and Manual Leija-Sanchez, fired more than a dozen shots killing one of the victims in his taxi cab near Mexico City in April 2007. During trial, the jury heard transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations in which he boasted to the brothers about the murder. He and Manuel Leija-Sanchez also hunted for a second victim whom they believed was in Mexico at the time. He 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 HSI special agents, along with other local, state and federal 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 were convicted, except for three defendants who remain fugitives.
Manuel Leija-Sanchez, 46, and Salazar-Rodriguez, 41, were arrested later in Mexico and extradited to the United States in 2010 and 2011 to stand trial; Julio Leija-Sanchez, 38, 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 about $200 per "set," which consisted of a social security card and either a U.S. immigration "green card" or a state driver’s license.
Manuel and Julio Leija-Sanchez and Salazar-Rodriguez conspired to murder Guillermo Jimenez-Flores, aka "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, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago. Also participating in the investigation were the Chicago and Galveston (Texas) police departments, and the Chicago offices of the U.S. Secret Service; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The government of Mexico and Mexican law enforcement partners also provided significant assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Nasser, Andrew Porter and William Ridgway, all from the Northern District of Illinois, prosecuted this case.