March 12th, 2009
04:33 PM ET

Young American killers on the payrolls of Mexican drug cartels

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.mexico.cardona.jpg caption="Gabriel Cardona, of Laredo, Texas."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.mexico.cardonas.jpg caption="Gabriel Cardona's tattooed back."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.mexico.retas.jpg caption="Rosalio Reta, of Laredo, Texas."]

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta should have been enrolled in classes at their Laredo, Texas high school - but these two teenagers were living a very different life from going to gym, math or history classes.

These two American high school dropouts were contract killers — on the payroll of drug cartels in Mexico. Investigators say they were paid $500 a week, just to sit around and wait for orders from Mexico to kill. Depending on the target they could bring in anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000. They would drive around in a $70,000 Mercedes Benz, flash cash, guns and live with little fear of any consequences for their actions.

Their crimes were heinous. They admitted to burning bodies in barrels and joked about cutting another victim in the stomach, taking his blood and toasting to their patron saint of death. They wore tattoos of the grim reaper – tattooed their eyelids and face and lived together in houses bought by the cartels. They would leave bodies in blood stained streets, cars riddled with bullets. All signatures of cartel killings, only these were happening on the United States side of the border.

When investigators caught up with Cardona and Reta, they say what they learned was chilling. The cartels have cells of contract killers –not only in Laredo, but in many other cities in the United States.

During hours of police interviews and recorded phone conversations, these two killers laugh about their crimes. Reta says he felt like Superman after his first killing. Cardona spoke of killing cells that exist in Dallas and Houston.

Cardona, now 21, is serving a life sentence for his crimes. And Reta, now 19, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but he is scheduled for another court appearance soon.

A chilling wake up call that Mexican drug cartels don’t stop at the border; they are present where drugs are sold or distributed.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada • Mexico
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    Legalization has the advantage of adding to the tax base; however, the addictive qualities of Heroine, methylamphetamine and combinations of dual addictions cost American families untold misery.

    Decriminalize do not legalize.

    March 13, 2009 at 10:20 am |
  2. Marilyn Macey

    When I watched this piece today, it actually send chill through my spine, I only have one question where are the parents of these teenagers?

    March 13, 2009 at 6:38 am |
  3. Kim

    This is dangerous and scary business ! The US is part of this issue and they're going to team up to get it straightened out ! This boarder business is on,"lock down ! " Say no to drugs !

    March 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    A very frightening story – I wonder how many teens are doing this. The perks of the job seem to outweigh the demands of the job by a lot and if you like hurting people there are no onerous tasks to perform. When I read stories like this I wonder where our society is headed; its not a pretty picture nor one that I would want associated with our country.

    March 12, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  5. Jim

    We can track a tiny little piece of space debri but we cannot locate & exterminate the Cartells and their members?

    March 12, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  6. GF, Los Angeles

    This problem is beyond marijuana...if anybody has watched Homeland Security you will see there is problem with human smuggling to cocaine being trafficked into this country. We must reinforce our borders. What other country allows illegals to cross their borders so easily much less allow them to live there and provide medical, welfare and public education?

    March 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm |
  7. Teresa

    Odd aint it? you have the school shooters killing for free when they could drop out of school and become hired killers, have fun, drive nice cars and be rich rich rich. Someone needs to pass on the info about jobs open near the border for teens. So... are these teens mentally ill too? The article: "Loners, Losers... killers" on this site: what makes one teen kill for money and the other kill for payback? Is there a difference?

    @Sherry: so true... however, most the HIPPIES I know never screamed unless they couldnt find their pipe or papers. How long after legalization will we have a mass killing due to contaminated pot?

    If pot were legalized.... I'd start smoking it. : ) coughcough

    March 12, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC


    The song of the victim is not appropriate here. These two were not "desperate." They liked to inflict pain and death, and got paid for it.

    Most people would not have it in themselves to do these things, no matter how much money they made.

    March 12, 2009 at 7:02 pm |
  9. Sherry, N. Calif.

    WHY does this surprise anyone?
    In N. Calif. in theTrinity Alps we have been subjected to these kinds of criminals for years. There could be bodies up in those mtns. It is not safe to hike. It has not been for a long time. Check out the Emerald Triangle. Don't go there or you will be looking down the barrel of an assault rifle.
    It is about time someone listened to the HIPPIES. They have been screaming for years. Smaller cars, get away from big oil, clean the air up,Legalize the Green, tax pot, Free all those inmates for pot convictions, (and stop feeding them), Up the tax on hard alcohol, Audit congress and make them pay their back taxes, etc.
    God bless America-We are still a great country! Let's get towork and clean it up. Mother Earth is listening I am sure!

    March 12, 2009 at 6:43 pm |
  10. OCbornraised

    Legalize the drugs and regulate it just like alcohol. This saves from spending taxes on the quarter century old and failed "war on drugs", it will boost the economy here in the US, it will shift production and distribution of drugs from lawless/violent cartels outside the country to enterprizes within the country, etc. etc. The war on drugs is a failure and is causing more violence. The real problem is the consumer demand side, which is very strong in the US. So let's get rid of all the silly jobs in the government devoted to fighting a losing war where the real solution is the market.

    How much worse can regulating weed be than alcohol and DUIs? The US's position is nonsense and is a demonstrated failure. Time for a paradigm shift, a new approach.

    March 12, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  11. Jackie Hauser

    How about starting with Legalizing marijuana and that would help

    March 12, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  12. Vince Smith, York PA

    This is ridiculous. I could only imagine what it must feel like for everyone living near or around the border.

    Also, it's a shame to think that the drug problem in America is causing other aliens to desperately cross our border in order to deliver these drugs.

    March 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    One question: Are they American citizens?...or illegal aliens?

    March 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm |
  14. Mari, Salt Lake City

    Desperate people do desperate things.

    I wonder what would happen to the lucrative drug trade IF Americans were not using!

    How about people get clean........ and we end the vicious cycle of violence, death, killing and drug wars?

    March 12, 2009 at 4:33 pm |