Teenage hitman Rosalio "Bart" Reta confesses 30 hits in Mexico and several in the US between the age of 13 and 17.
"Drug Violence Spills Over The Border From Mexico. The scrawny young man at the defense table was only 17, and had only a peach-fuzz mustache in his mugshot. But authorities say he was already a seasoned assassin in the U.S. for some of Mexico's drug lords.
The trial last month of American citizen Rosalio "Bart" Reta, combined with the case against a co-defendant and interviews with law enforcement officials, has cast a spotlight on a new danger along the border.
Mexican drug lords locked in a bloody fight for control of a pipeline that runs from Mexico to Dallas and up through middle America have brazenly stationed hit squads and reconnaissance teams in Laredo.
In the past two years, rival cartels have killed at least seven people in Laredo, including a victim stalked and killed near his job site and a man gunned down in the parking lot of a popular restaurant, U.S. authorities say. Nearly all the victims were mixed up in the drug trade themselves.
"That river does not stop these people," said Webb County Sheriff's Maj. Doyle Holdridge, who for the past 30 years has been working drug cases along the Rio Grande, which separates Laredo from its Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo. The cities have a combined population of half a million.
Over the past few years, the Mexican Gulf Cartel and its rival Sinaloa Cartel have carried out a terrifying bloodbath in Nuevo Laredo, where the traffickers have a saying: "Plata o plomo" -- "Silver or lead." So far, the worst of the violence has been confined to Mexico.
"Our mission is to make sure it doesn't cross over," said Jesse Guillen, a Laredo prosecutor who obtained guilty pleas from Reta and another hit man for the Gulf Cartel earlier this year. "Is it under control? Let's see."
Unlike many other drug-related killings, the Laredo slayings often involve careful planning, explicit orders and surveillance of law enforcement officers, Guillen said. And arrests aren't easy: In most cases, the killers flee back across the border.
Also, the traditional taboos against involving family members and other civilians have disappeared.
"These days, if they have a problem, they kill it," Holdridge said. "If they have to hose down a car full of five people, they'll do it."
Gone also is the grudging respect once accorded U.S. law enforcement. Holdridge said he and his wife have occasionally been followed by suspected cartel members as they drive around town. In fact, Reta had the make, model and plates of a law officer's personal car, Guillen said.
Reta, nicknamed for the cartoon character Bart Simpson, admitted being part of a hit squad that was ordered in January 2006 to kill a man who was dating a drug lord's girlfriend. The squad of three Americans mistakenly killed the target's stepbrother, 27-year-old Noe Flores, instead, prosecutors say.
The hit squad's members -- all Americans -- lived in the U.S., awaiting orders from the drug lords. Investigators said they are unsure whether other hit squads are living in this country.
Reta's co-defendant Gabriel Cardona, 20, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Although he probably would have gotten a shorter sentence if he had been convicted at a trial, "he was scared to death" of his bosses, Guillen said.
Reta chose to go to trial, but as the testimony started to reveal details of the cartel's organization and tactics, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 years. A defense attorney and others involved in the case received threats.
Reta, who was only 16 when Flores was killed, still faces charges in the killing of another Laredo man, gunned down outside a restaurant, also allegedly on the orders of the Gulf Cartel.
Reta told investigators that the Zetas, former Mexican soldiers now working as Gulf Cartel enforcers, trained him in marksmanship and grenade-throwing at a boot camp in Mexico, Guillen said. Reta's right arm bears a tattoo of "Santa Muerte," the pseudo patron saint of drug traffickers whose image frequently shows up on candles or statues with drug loads.
Reta told a U.S. investigator he participated in about 30 cartel-ordered killings in Mexico, starting when he was 13, and sought extradition to the United States for the Laredo murders after he was arrested in connection with a grenade explosion that killed four people at a nightclub in Monterrey, Mexico.
Reta, Cardona and other hit men were paid $500 a week, according to Laredo police. When a job was done, they could get a bonus of $10,000 and two kilos of cocaine, police said in court documents. For the Flores killing, Reta and Cardona got $500 each. (The intended victim was eventually killed.)
The third alleged member of the hit squad made bail after his arrest and fled to Mexico before trial. Warrants have also been issued for the alleged middleman in the hit and the cartel's reputed boss in Nuevo Laredo, but both men are believed to be in Mexico.
The cartels have studied U.S. law enforcement procedures and know how to stymie officers.
Holdridge said the cartels sometimes send out "suicide loads" -- smaller piles of marijuana or cash that traffickers know will get caught by local law enforcement. Such busts tie up officers with paperwork for hours, giving traffickers time to drive a bigger load through unnoticed, Holdridge said.
In recent months, the violence around Laredo and Nuevo Laredo has quieted down, and no other hit squads have been discovered.
But "it's like shark's teeth," Guillen said. "You pull one out and another one grows in."" (CBS, August 27, 2007)
"LAREDO — On his last night of freedom, Gabriel Cardona laid on his bed in a stash house in the northern part of this city, chatting on his cell phone about how he'd sliced open two young Americans with a broken bottle.
"You should have been there," Cardona, a 22-year-old who dropped out of high school in Laredo, told a fellow member of the Gulf Cartel's hit man squad in a conversation April 10, 2006, that was intercepted by federal agents.
Eleven days earlier, Jorge "Poncho" Aviles, 19, and Inez Villarreal, 14, were abducted from a nightclub in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, taken to an abandoned house south of the border, tortured, gutted and then burned in 55-gallon drums, according to recently unsealed federal court records.
On the recording, Cardona said Aviles died first, after begging for his life.
"I grabbed a (expletive) bottle, and slash! I slit his whole (expletive) belly. And poom! He was bleeding, I grabbed a little cup and poom, poom! I filled it with blood and poom! I dedicated it to the Santisima Muerte," the Saint of Death, he said.
The conversation with hit man Rosalio "Bart" Reta would prove to be a key piece of evidence in a federal case that could land Cardona, who is already serving an 80-year prison sentence for convictions on five state murder charges, with a potential life sentence.
In August, the San Antonio native pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to kill and kidnap in a foreign country for the murders of Aviles and Villarreal. He is scheduled for sentencing this spring.
Cardona's case is part of a 47-count indictment that has led to the arrests of 14 defendants employed by the Gulf Cartel, a dominant and ruthless drug smuggling syndicate. Thirteen of them, including Cardona, have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Laredo in connection with the case against the cartel.
Four defendants are scheduled for sentencing Jan. 29. Nine more, including Cardona, are scheduled to be sentenced in April and May. The charges against one defendant were dismissed.
While the federal case is considered a blow to the syndicate's operations, some of its alleged top leaders remain fugitives, including Miguel Angel Treviño, the alleged mastermind of seven murders laid out in the indictment.
New documents unsealed as part of the still-unfolding federal case for the first time detail the murders of Aviles and Villarreal, and they offer a glimpse at the inner workings of the Gulf Cartel's operations. The records highlight a long-standing battle with the Sinaloa Cartel for control over the lucrative Interstate 35 smuggling corridor.
One U.S. law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Zetas — the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel — have retained control of the Laredo smuggling business even since the disruption of Cardona's hit man cell by employing enforcers with prison gangs, including the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia.
While cartel-related violence has increased markedly at other points along the Texas-Mexico border, Laredo has seen relatively few drug-related homicides in the past two years, in large part because the Zetas are maintaining control of the area.
"It's quiet now," the source said, "but that could change at any moment."
Cardona's American-born hit man crew was dubbed "Zetillas," slang for "little Zetas," because of their ages. The youngest, at 16, was Houston native Reta, the other person in Cardona's intercepted conversation. He is now a convicted murderer in Texas and a suspect in multiple murders in Mexico.
Jesse Guillen, a former Webb County prosecutor who handled multiple murder cases against the crew, said the young Americans were potent weapons for the cartel, which was charged in the 47-count indictment with moving major loads of marijuana and cocaine north, often escorting the drugs to Dallas.
"They blend in," Guillen said of the American hit men. "They're U.S. citizens. They speak fluent English. They're able to follow (drug) shipments, and collect money for it. They're able to drive up to Dallas and Houston without any problems."
According to the court records, the hit men were paid $500 a week just to be on call to kill and up to $50,000 to carry out a double homicide. They drove fancy cars, were paid with cash and cocaine, and killed on command.
Cardona was more of a "middle management" type, coordinating hits on the orders of alleged cartel leader Treviño and his lieutenants, Guillen said. But Reta, he said, was "a stone-cold killer from the word 'go.'"
String of slayings
The murders tied to Cardona's cell started June 8, 2005, with the botched kidnapping of a former Nuevo Laredo police officer, Bruno Orozco. He was killed in broad daylight in an industrial section of Laredo, shot at close range.
Acting on information from witnesses, Laredo police detectives arrested Cardona in November 2005 in connection with Orozco's murder. Cardona posted bond and was later implicated in four more Texas murders, plus those of Aviles and Villarreal.
Six months after Orozco's murder, Moises Garcia was killed in the parking lot of the Torta Mex Mexican restaurant in Laredo while he sat in his car. Garcia's pregnant wife was injured in the attack. In a federal plea agreement, the getaway car driver said Cardona and Reta talked about how Reta "shot a man in the head, 'just like that.'"
Reta is still facing a state murder charge in connection with Garcia's death.
Noe Lopez Flores was killed next, in a botched hit by Cardona and two accomplices that was supposed to target the victim's half-brother. A receipt left behind in the car used in the murder helped Laredo police crack that murder case and eventually bring down the cell, Guillen said.
After the murders of Aviles and Villarreal in Mexico, Cardona had one more murder case in Texas, a double homicide at a stoplight on U.S. 83 in Laredo that killed cartel defector Jesus Resendez and his 15-year-old nephew, Mariano Resendez, on April 2, 2006.
Key to ending spree
Cardona's spree ended shortly after he was recorded talking to Reta on the wiretap on April 10, 2006. SWAT teams closed in on the safe house in a northern Laredo suburb within hours of the phone call.
Cardona has since pleaded guilty to all five state murder charges.
The wiretap proved to be key in solving the murders of Aviles and Villarreal. Aviles, whom Cardona suspected of working for Los Chapos, a rival smuggling organization, had begged for his life, Cardona said on the wiretap: "He was crying and crying." He also said that Aviles said, "'No man, I'm your friend.'"
After Cardona described the murder on the wiretap, Reta asked, "Are those two dead?"
"Of course, of course," Cardona replied.
Then he added: "There are three left, there are three left."
On April 3, a little more than a week before Cardona was arrested at the safe house, Aviles' father went to Laredo police to report his son missing. Adrian Rios Aviles said he was told by a friend of the family that his son was abducted from the Eclipse nightclub in Nuevo Laredo at gunpoint March 30, 2006, along with Villarreal.
Rios said he has held out hope that Cardona's confession was false. The bodies of Aviles and Villarreal were never recovered. Rios suggested the cartel may have forced his son to work in Mexico. He said two friends have reported seeing someone who resembles his son south of the border.
"I pray for him every day," Rios, 41, said of his son. "I still have hope that he's alive. If he's not, I pray that Jesus Christ takes care of him." (San Antonio News, Jan.18, 2009)
FBI CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY
Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
and the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims
November 17, 2005
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, ranking members, and members of the subcommittees. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the FBI's efforts to combat recent violence along the South Texas border with Mexico.
The region between the Texas cities of Del Rio and Brownsville has experienced high levels of drug-related turmoil since 2003. The focal point of much of this activity is Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a border city situated directly across the Rio Grande River from Laredo, Texas.
Drug traffickers have exacted an especially bloody toll in Nuevo Laredo and neighboring Mexican towns. Significant levels of violence and drug-related criminal activity also plague Laredo. As you know, this bloody drama revolves around the Gulf Cartel drug-trafficking organization, which dominates the region and commands smuggling operations along this stretch of the American Southwest.
One of their enforcement groups, known as Los Zetas, bears primary responsibility for the violence. They have been fighting a turf war on behalf of the Gulf Cartel against rival drug trafficking organizations. Because the Bureau focuses on large-scale enterprise investigations that target the command and control structures of criminal groups, we are well suited to help dismantle these trafficking organizations.
One of the most significant ramifications of the unrest along the border has been a string of kidnappings involving U.S. citizens. Between May 2004 and May 2005, there have been 35 reported abductions of U.S. citizens in this region (much larger numbers of Mexican citizens have been abducted along the border. From January to mid-August 2005, 202 kidnappings occurred in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel's operational center, which includes the cities of Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa.) Thirty-four of these abductions occurred in Nuevo Laredo and involved U.S. citizens who had crossed the border. Twenty-three victims were released by their captors, nine victims remain missing, and two are confirmed dead.
These numbers likely represent only a fraction of the actual occurrences, because many kidnappings of U.S. citizens go unreported. There are two reasons for the underreporting of abductions along the border. First, victims and their families fear reprisal from kidnappers. Second, since many victims are alleged to be involved in drug trafficking, they and their families are reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.
The San Antonio Division has 26 pending kidnapping cases. We have offered all available resources to assist Mexican law enforcement and have followed every domestic lead to locate the U.S. kidnapping victims.
The Laredo Resident Agency received complaints from the families of U.S. citizens Janet Yvette Martinez and Brenda Yadira Cisneros after they disappeared on Sept. 17, 2004 in Nuevo Laredo. They remain missing. Investigation revealed that alleged members of Los Zetas kidnapped Martinez and Cisneros. Mexican authorities have cooperated and we are working with them to review evidence in this case.
The FBI has interviewed all cooperative kidnapping victims subsequent to their release. In cases where the victim remains missing, we have tried to obtain DNA samples to identify any human remains, if recovered. In the one case where the kidnapping occurred within the United States (Laredo), the FBI helped rescue the victim before he was transported to Mexico. This investigation is pending and the assistant United States attorneys in Laredo and Houston are pursuing charges.
Investigations Targeting Cartel Activity
The San Antonio Division has over 50 Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations. These target Mexican drug trafficking organizations and related activities, including money laundering and gang violence. One of the investigations, Operation Cazadores, led to the indictment of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas-Guillen. The investigation continues to pursue fugitive Gulf Cartel leaders indicted along with Cardenas-Guillen. Other pending investigations in Laredo, Houston, and Dallas focus on the leadership of organizations affiliated with Cardenas-Guillen.
Mexican drug cartels responsible for recent border violence have also cemented ties to street and prison gangs on the U.S. side. U.S. gangs retail drugs purchased from Mexican traffickers and often work as cartel surrogates or enforcers on U.S. soil. Intelligence suggests Los Zetas have hired members of various gangs at different times including the Mexican Mafia, Texas Syndicate, MS-13, and Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos to further their criminal endeavors.
The FBI is well-equipped to deal with these groups. The Bureau, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, has established a National Gang Intelligence Center at FBI Headquarters. In addition, we have established task forces throughout the country to disrupt gang activity. The FBI's San Antonio Division currently operates two Safe Street/Gang task forces addressing border violence in San Antonio and the Rio Grand Valley.
These FBI-led task forces include FBI special agents, other federal agents, and local law enforcement officers: the San Antonio Safe Streets/Gang Task Force is comprised of nine FBI special agents and 13 task force officers; the Rio Grande Valley Safe Streets/Gang Task Force is comprised of eight FBI special agents and five task force officers.
The FBI continues to collect and share intelligence with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Through Safe Streets task forces, we are collecting intelligence and exploring the connections between Mexican cartels and gangs along the border. We are participating in Operation Blackjack, an interagency endeavor in conjunction with Mexican authorities. Through this program we have exchanged vital targeting intelligence on Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel with our law enforcement colleagues, including DEA, ATF, and appropriate elements of DHS.
More broadly, at the core of our intelligence-gathering effort lies the FBI's McAllen Intelligence Center. The MIC, as it is commonly known, is comprised of representatives from various local, state, and federal agencies in Texas. This is the central repository for border violence-related intelligence. The MIC collects and analyzes criminal intelligence from state, local, and federal investigations along the Texas/Mexico border.
The center routinely shares intelligence with Mexican officials and over 300 law enforcement agencies in South Texas. This includes material regarding corrupt Mexican officials, gang activity along the border, and drug trafficking. The McAllen Intelligence Center also maintains a comprehensive database of Zetas, their associates, and members of both the Gulf Cartel and its rivals.
We have had several operational successes based on intelligence we have gathered and passed on to Mexican officials. Some of the information the FBI provided to Mexican officials helped Mexican federal and military authorities locate two Zeta safe houses in Nuevo Laredo in June 2005, where they rescued 44 kidnapping victims.
FBI officials recently met with their Mexican counterparts and discussed the location of several suspected Zeta-owned ranches. Based on information furnished by the FBI, Mexican authorities conducted surveillance of the locations and provided us with the resulting intelligence.
Eight FBI special agents in our Resolution 6 program cover five major cities in Mexico working in DEA offices, which affords complete coordination with DEA resources and investigations. These agents develop intelligence regarding the activities of Mexican criminal enterprises to support U.S. investigations.
All of this work is coordinated with representatives from key DEA offices and Mexican officials. Recently Mexican authorities used FBI Resolution 6 intelligence to conduct several drug seizures, including seven tons of marijuana attributed to Joaquin Guzman-Loera, archrival of the Gulf Cartel. In September 2005, FBI Headquarters deployed analytical resources to Monterrey, Mexico, to provide case support.
The FBI continues to aggressively pursue the major organizations and violent criminals responsible for lawlessness along the border. The FBI, along with our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, is working with the Mexican Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey to identify Los Zetas members and their associates in order to revoke their immigration documents. This measure will make it more difficult for them to enter and operate in the United States. We are also cooperating with other U.S. law enforcement agencies in investigations targeting Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and their enemies.
On October 13, 2005, the U.S. attorney general announced the creation of an ATF-led Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT) in Laredo. In combination with the VCITs already established in Los Angeles, Tucson, Albuquerque, and Houston, the Laredo VCIT will address cross-border violence. The VCIT model combines local police resources with ATF investigative and technical expertise and the resources of ICE, CBP, and other federal law enforcement partners to reduce the violence that plagues our most crime-ridden communities. We look forward to working with our colleagues from ATF in combating gang violence and other violent crime along the border with Mexico.
The FBI is taking pro-active measures to assess and confront this heightened threat to public safety on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, including participation in multiple bilateral multi-agency meetings and working groups to hone strategies to address the problem. Our intelligence gathering activities provide windows into these organizations and their operations while our investigative efforts strive to disrupt and dismantle these criminal organizations and reduce the violence in the region.
Paramilitary groups such as the Zetas, Los Negros, Los Numeros, and others who work for Mexican drug cartels as enforcers are a serious threat to public safety on both sides of the entire U.S./Mexico border. They are well financed and well equipped. Their willingness to shoot and kill law enforcement officers on both sides of the border makes these paramilitary groups among the most dangerous criminal enterprises in North America.
Working with our federal, state, and local partners, and the government of Mexico, the FBI continues to investigate these cartels and their paramilitary enforcers, gathering evidence for prosecution where U.S. jurisdiction exists.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today. I would be happy to answer any questions." (FBI.gov, Nov.17, 2005)
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In: News, Other
Tags: death squad, death squads, lasrever, danielmountain, drug cartel, drug cartels, gang member, gang, gang members, texas, reta, rosalio
Location: Laredo, Texas, United States (load item map)
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