Little Village fake ID and murder trial begins
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2013 7:16PM
Discount Mall in the Little Village area of Chicago. | Sun-Times Library
Updated: February 26, 2013 6:32AM
The hitman was stalking his target in Mexico when he called his boss back in Chicago, prosecutors said.
“I have my piece in the car and I’m ready to jump,” Gerardo Salazar-Rodriquez was allegedly recorded telling Julio Leija-Sanchez back in early 2007. “I’m just waiting for your brother to tell me how high.”
Within hours, the bloodied body of their main business rival — a former confidant known as “Montes” — was found by Mexican authorities slumped in the front seat of a taxi, riddled with lead.
The dead man’s mistake: trying to muscle in on a multi-million dollar fake ID ring based thousands of miles away in a Little Village strip mall, prosecutors said as a major racketeering trial opened Thursday.
Six years after heavily armed federal agents stormed the 26th Street Discount Mall and seized ID-making equipment, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Nasser told jurors that grisly wiretaps, video footage and insider accounts will show how the Leija-Sanchez crew used violence and paid the Latin Kings to protect its turf for two decades.
Julio Leija-Sanchez and his brother Manuel deny charges of running the U.S. and Mexican branches of the business, respectively, while Salazar-Rodriguez denies he was the enforcer who murdered Montes.
But tens of thousands of fake drivers licenses, green cards and social security cards were sold at $200 a pop to immigrants out of the parking lot in front of a photo store run by Ald. Ricardo Munoz’s father, Elias, Nasser said. Illegal workers were smuggled across the border, then forced to join the business to pay off their debt, she said.
Jurors Thursday watched a video of undercover agents buying phony IDs and posing for photos snapped by the alderman’s dad, who previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years for his role in the scheme.
Dramatic testimony is likely next week when Freddy Ramirez Camella takes the stand. Known as “Bruno,” he was a trusted insider who the Leija-Sanchezes plotted to kill after he left to set up a rival ID business with Montes, prosecutors say.
In wiretapped conversations, Julio Leija-Sanchez discussed finding Bruno at Montes’ funeral, burning him to death and cutting him into pieces, they say.
Attorneys for both Leija-Sanchez brothers and for Salazar-Rodriquez offered little during opening arguments, urging jurors to keep an open mind, and to consider whether the Spanish-speaking voices on the wiretaps really belong to their clients.
Given the amount of damning phone chat the government says it recorded, that’s likely to be a key question.
According to Nasser, Julio Leija-Sanchez even told one potential recruit to the business, “I admit there are some risks — the thing is it’s always risky when you are doing something crooked.”