Alleged Leader of Little Village Identification Document Fraud Ring Extradited from Mexico to Face Racketeering and Murder Conspiracy Charges in Chicago

CHICAGO—An alleged leader of a counterfeit identification document business that operated in Chicago’s Little Village Community has been extradited from Mexico to face federal charges here, including racketeering conspiracy and murder-related offenses, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced today.

The defendant, Manuel Leija-Sanchez, 43, was arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court on eight counts, including racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, money laundering, bulk cash smuggling, and alien smuggling. He pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody without bond. A status hearing was scheduled for Aug. 26 before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. Leija-Sanchez was arrested in Mexico in October 2007 and remained in custody in Mexico until Mexican authorities surrendered him to U.S. law enforcement agents last Friday.

The charges are part of Operation Paper Tiger, an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that, in April 2007, resulted in charges against 24 defendants and dismantled an alleged fraudulent document ring that operated in and around the Little Village Discount Mall and generated nearly $3 million in annual profits.

Manuel Leija-Sanchez allegedly operated the bustling fraudulent document business since 1993 with his brothers, Julio Leija-Sanchez and Pedro Leija-Sanchez. The Mexico-based Leija-Sanchez organization was supervised by an overall leader living in Chicago, and the leadership position rotated among the three Leija-Sanchez brothers, according to an October 2007 indictment. The leader in Chicago and others allegedly ordered violent acts against competitors, rivals and others.

“We are grateful to the Mexican authorities for extraditing Mr. Leija-Sanchez to the United States to face these serious charges,” said Gary Hartwig, Special Agent-in-Charge of the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago.

The indictment alleged that the organization sold as many as 50 to 100 sets of fraudulent identification documents each day, charging customers approximately $200 to $300 cash per “set,” consisting of a Social Security card and either an Immigration “green card” or a state driver’s license.

Manuel Leija-Sanchez and his brothers allegedly conspired to murder Guillermo Jimenez-Flores, a former member of their organization who became a fledgling rival and was allegedly shot to death in Mexico in April 2007 by co-defendant Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez, who was paid by and conspired with the three Leija-Sanchez brothers. The same four defendants also allegedly conspired about the same time to kill a second victim in Mexico.

Pedro Leija-Sanchez and Salazar-Rodriguez are both in custody in Mexico, while Julio Leija-Sanchez was arrested in Chicago and remains in custody while awaiting trial.

Joining ICE in the federal investigation were the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago offices of the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Justice Department praised the significant assistance provided by the Government of Mexico and Mexican law enforcement partners.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Nasser, Andrew Porter and William Ridgway.

If convicted of the most serious charges against him, Manuel Leija-Sanchez faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.