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Fake ID insider testifies against crew charged with trying to kill him

Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez

Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:42AM

Asked to point out the former friend who allegedly plotted to kill him with an AK-47 submachine gun in Mexico City, Freddy “Bruno” Ramirez-Camella stood up on his tiptoes in the witness box of a federal courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

As he scanned the packed Chicago courtroom, Bruno seemed momentarily confused. Then his eyes came to a rest on an obese man in a suit, and he smiled.

“He’s at the middle table,” Bruno he said through an interpreter. “He has his hand on his face.”

Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez, the alleged hit man Bruno had just identified to jurors, stared back, blankly. He had unsuccessfully hunted Bruno for more than a week in Mexico nearly six years ago, prosecutors say.

Now he was finally in the same room as his old pal, forced to listen as Bruno played the role of star witness in the government’s case against Salazar-Rodriguez and his bosses, two brothers accused of running a multimillion dollar business supplying fake IDs to immigrants on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Ramirez-Camella’s dramatic testimony in the racketeering trial of Salazar-Rodriguez and Julio and Manuel Leija-Sanchez came after jurors listened to dozens of wiretapped phone conversations in which the defendants allegedly plotted to kill both Bruno, and his cousin, Guillermo “Montes” Jiminez-Flores, for deserting their business to set up a rival fake ID ring in Little Village.

Unaware that federal agents were listening in, Salazar-Rodriguez and the Leija-Sanchezes allegedly discussed how Salazar-Rodriguez assassinated Montes in a Mexico City taxi on April 1, 2007, then plotted in minute detail how he would kill Bruno after Montes’ funeral, fussing over what kind of bullets to use and whether to burn or cut up his body afterwards.

Salazar-Rodriguez even told his bosses back in Chicago that he had spotted Bruno several times in Mexico City, but that he hadn’t yet had a chance to kill him, according to transcripts of the wiretapped conversations.

But the would-be hit man was mistaken about his sightings, prosecutors say: By the time Bruno had been marked for assassination, he was already safely locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

Testifying on Tuesday, Bruno, wearing a black-and-red Michael Jordan jacket, said that he had worked for the Leija-Sanchez brothers for five years after emigrating to Chicago. He sold phony IDs from a 26th Street parking lot for them from 1999 and attended more than 10 staff meetings at which the Leija-Sanchez brothers threatened to “crack the heads” of anyone who tried to sell fake IDs on their turf, he said.

Prosecutors say it was Bruno’s decision to try to set up a rival business with his cousin that led to the deadly rift with the Leija-Sanchezes.

But Bruno said his falling out with Salazar-Rodriguez — a fellow ID hawker at the time — was more intimate.

His account of a vicious beating he gave one of Salazar-Rodriguez’s friends jibed with a wiretapped conversation Salazar-Rodriguez had, in which he described how he wanted bloody revenge against Bruno.

“Ever since he screwed me over there, dude,” Salazar-Rodriguez allegedly told Julio Leija-Sanchez. “The same with Montes. In a few words, it was something personal . . .”

Attorneys for the defendants, who deny all charges, will get the chance to cross-examine Bruno when the trial continues Wednesday.

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