Once one of Chicago’s most feared criminals, Saul Rodriguez cried like a baby Friday before he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for leading a ruthless kidnapping crew.
Rodriguez, 39, was involved in the killings of at least three people — including his best friend, federal prosecutors say. The sentence was the maximum Rodriguez faced under a deal with prosecutors.
Rodriguez sobbed for more than 10 minutes, brushing away tears with tissues, as he apologized to his victims and his family.
“I don’t want to do bad no more,” he said.
Rodriguez said he found God in jail and wants to become an ordained minister behind bars.
His attorneys asked for the minimum of 30 years in prison, but U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said that would be a disservice to the victims.
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Before the sentencing, the sister of one of Rodriguez’s murder victims urged Gottschall to give him the stiffest prison term possible. Angelica Luevano said Rodriguez had pretended to mourn her brother Juan Luevano at his funeral in June 2000. Rodriguez ordered Luevano’s shooting in Cicero because Luevano dated Rodriguez’s ex-girlfriend, prosecutors said.
“Every time I think about it, it makes my stomach churn,” Angelica Luevano said.
“Why did you take his life away?” she asked Rodriguez, who sat at the defense table in an orange jail uniform with his feet shackled. “My brother looked up to you like a brother.”
A kidnapping victim’s relative also read a statement in which he described the terror of being abducted for an $800,000 ransom in 2003. Jimmy Lopez, who owned a North Side rim shop, asked his kidnappers to call his friend Rodriguez to pay the random. Little did he know that Rodriguez arranged the abduction.
Lopez recalled trying not to vomit in the plastic bag his kidnappers placed over his head, because he feared he would suffocate.
“None of this is easy to forget,” Lopez’s statement said, adding that he hopes the government will order Rodriguez to repay the $800,000 that Lopez spent on his ransom.
Lopez’s statement was in jarring contrast to the testimony given by Rodriguez’s former attorney, Jeff Steinback, who told the judge that Rodriguez found new faith in jail. He acknowledged Rodriguez “sunk to the lowest depths” with his “shocking” crimes. But he said Rodriguez now wants only to make amends to his victims and underwent a sincere religious conversion.
Steinback recalled visiting Rodriguez in jail and having the criminal take his hands and pray for the recovery of Steinback’s young granddaughter, who was suffering from leukemia.
Steinback urged the judge to sentence Rodriguez to 30 years in prison to give him hope to continue on a path toward redemption.
“He has never stopped crying, he has never stopped aching and never will,” the well-regarded defense attorney said.
To save himself from the death penalty, Rodriguez ratted out the rest of his crew, cutting a deal with prosecutors that limited his sentence to 40 years in prison.
Rodriguez’s criminal career took off in the late 1990s, when he was an informant for the Chicago Police Department. He was paid about $800,000 for tips against rival drug dealers.
Rodriguez became a partner-in-crime with his police handler, narcotics Officer Glenn Lewellen, who protected Rodriguez from law enforcement and eventually helped him rip off and kidnap other dealers.
Lewellen, who retired from the department in 2003, was among the members of Rodriguez’s kidnapping crew who have gone to prison on federal charges filed in 2009.
Rodriguez and his crew ripped off at least 29 other dealers, kidnapping many of them for ransom, authorities say. Among their kidnapping victims was Pedro Flores, who was released after his twin brother, Margarito, paid a ransom of cocaine worth at least $1.5 million in the summer of 2003.
The twins, considered the biggest drug dealers in Chicago history, were supplied by the powerful Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. They decided to become informants for the Drug Enforcement Administration, helping lead to the arrest of Sinaloa boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman — the U.S. government’s most-wanted man until his arrest last year in Mexico.
Last year, the Flores brothers each received a 14-year prison term — a huge break considering the tons of cocaine they imported into the United States. Unlike Rodriguez, though, prosecutors did not present any evidence they were personally involved in murder or other violent crimes.