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Imperial Gangster pleads guilty to murder

An East Chicago man admitted Friday to killing a rival gangster despite having a chance to flee when the victim fired on him first.

Ace Cortez, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of murder in aid of racketeering and one count of conspiracy to racketeer. He admitted during a hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Hammond that he had taken part in the criminal activities of the Imperial Gangsters in East Chicago since he was young teenager.

Cortez is one of more than 20 defendants who have been charged in the Imperial Gangsters racketeering case. He had been set to go on trial next month before reaching a plea deal with federal attorneys Friday.

The murder charge comes with a mandatory sentence of life in prison; however, as part of the deal, federal attorneys will file a motion that, if granted, would allow U.S. District Judge Philip Simon to give a sentence below that. The agreement actually calls for a sentence of no more than 30 years. If Simon did not agree to that, Cortez would be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

The agreement allows for both sides to argue whether Cortez’s killing of Anuar David Paez on July 24, 2004, constitutes first-degree murder.

He did admit to shooting Paez, though, telling Judge Simon that he had been hanging out on a street corner when Paez and some other people, who were members of a rival gang, started shooting at them.

“I jumped in my truck and drove, trying to get out of there,” he said.

About a minute later, though, he came upon Paez again and shot at him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Nozick stressed that the killing was not in self-defense, saying that Cortez had enough time to try to escape to safety.

“He could have driven away, called the police,” Nozick said.

Cortez and his co-defendants are accused of killing more than a dozen people. With Cortez’s deal, just six defendants are now set to go on trial Jan. 13. A seventh, Juan Briseno, will be tried separately in April. The government has said it will seek the death penalty against Briseno, who is accused of killing six people himself.

Simon did not set a sentencing hearing for Cortez, who is expected to testify against his co-defendants.

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