American teenagers Rosalio (Bart) Reta (l.) & Gabriel Cardona (r.) became assassins with the Los Zetas drug cartel.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, September 3, 2016, 3:20 PM
Texas native Gabriel Cardona and his crew of teen assassins were busted by the feds just before importing the murderous Mexican drug wars to the streets of Laredo.
The chilling tale is told in vivid detail in veteran journalist Dan Slater’s new book, “Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel.”
The story begins with law enforcement success: The federal Drug Enforcement Administration, in the mid-’90s, shut down the cocaine trafficking route between South Florida and Colombia.
The result? Some 90% of the cocaine and much of the methamphetamine that reached the U.S. was instead now funneled through Mexico.
The most lucrative of the drug crossings became Laredo, Texas, one of the nation’s poorest cities, sitting across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo.
In 2004, Nuevo Laredo fell under the control of Los Zetas — the vicious enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel — and its regional commander Miguel (Forty) Trevino.
“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel” by Dan Slater.
Trevino freely admitted to more than 800 murders, including one where he killed a man — and then forced the victim’s brother to dine on his slain sibling’s brains.
He and his well-trained, black-clad soldiers were engaged in a corpse-strewn battle with the Sinaloa Cartel for control of Laredo.
Gabriel Cardona was 17, a poor kid from Laredo, when he was inducted along with 70 other Zetas recruits at a Mexican training camp in 2004. He was particularly valued as an American citizen who could cross the border with impunity.
Colombian mercenaries taught the recruits combat skills — but the real test for the newbies was ahead: hands-on murder.
By this point, most recruits opted for non-combat duty. Cardona was one of the fewer than 20 still in training to become a sicario — an assassin.
Gabriel Cardona was 17, a poor kid from Laredo, Texas, when he was inducted along with 70 other Zetas recruits at a Mexican training camp in 2004.
He was given a choice of weapon — shovel, sledge-hammer or machete — along with a live Sinaloan captive. The weapon was used only to bring down the enemy.
Killing was done with your bare hands. It became addictive to some.
The teen assassins, dubbed the Wolf Boys by the author, earned $ 500 a week. The money came with commissions that reached as high as $ 10,000 if the target was high value.
Cardona’s future became clear when he and a second American teen were assigned two $ 5,000 commission jobs in Laredo. The first target was a Mexican cop, Bruno Orozco, who’d defected from the Zetas to join a Sinaloan boss, Chuy Resendez, in Laredo.
The teens murdered Orozco by the side of a busy road in broad daylight. Most of the hastily assembled crew escaped, but Cardona landed up in the Laredo police station for questioning by Detective Robert Garcia.
The alleged leader of the Zetas drug carteL, Oscar Omar Trevino, aka “Z-42,” is taken under custody to be presented to the press in Mexico City, on March 4, 2015.
(OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)
Garcia had quit the DEA, thinking homicide in his hometown would free him from chasing narco-villains. But the body count on the streets of Laredo was soon to rise, in part due to the teen sitting across from him.
Cardona, after spinning a tale to explain his presence at the murder scene, was remarkable chatty about being a Zeta soldier. Yet he was soon free on bond.
Back in Nuevo Laredo, Cardona learned he was considered the most trusted sicario for difficult jobs. He was on a path to become commander of his own plaza in a Mexican city, with an annual income of $ 1 million.
Cardona was now a comandante de mando in Laredo, free to recruit his own killing crew. He brought in his childhood pal, Rosito (Bart) Reta, who seemed to love the brutal work.
On orders to whack a heavyweight smuggler in Laredo, Reta reached into the car and blew the target’s brains out. The man’s wife caught shrapnel while their 3-year-old sat watching.
View of weapons, grenades and two kilos of cocaine seized from the drug cartel in Mexico City in 2010.
(LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Cardona was unaware that Reta had joined the Zetas at 13, and was practically raised by the fearsome Trevino.
Reta earned the highest scores at camp, and Trevino deployed him throughout Mexico — where the boy soldier left no trace but a corpse.
Back in Nuevo Laredo, Cardona became edgy about Reta. His pal would call from the road, happily sharing details from a killing spree. Reta made so much in commissions that after winning a $ 70,000 Mercedes at one of the cartel’s parties, he tossed the keys to Cardona.
In Laredo, panic was growing over the city’s disappearing young men. Since 2004, the FBI recorded 100 cases of American citizens going missing in Nuevo Laredo. And those were only the reported cases.
Cardona could account for at least two of the missing. On orders, he’d kidnapped two Sinaloa-affiliated American teenagers from a night club.
Three alleged members of the Mexican drug cartel “Zetas” remain in a security cell at court in Guatemala City, on May 26, 2011, charged with the murders of 27 people.
(JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
He beat them to death.
Garcia had meanwhile stepped up his investigation into Cardona. Then Reta started calling him, threatening the detective, his wife and kids. An Arizona cop delivered word that an informant reported there was a $ 500,000 bounty on the head of the Laredo homicide detective.
In April 2006, Cardona’s moment came when Forty ordered him to assemble the crew, the vehicles and the guns. The teen assassins were to descend on Laredo to “chase and slaughter” Forty’s Top 40 targets.
In Laredo, U.S. Attorney Angel Moreno and Garcia went into overdrive after getting wind of the impending massacre from an informant tasked with arranging a safe house.
The priority was wiretapping the house to learn the names on the list. Before a judge signed the papers, the hit squad found another squat. The panicked informant was suddenly out of touch.
A Mexican Federal Police stands guard with a cache of weapons seized from Los Zetas.
(LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)
In that time, the killers ticked Sinaloa boss Resendez off the list. Rising from the flatbed of a pickup truck, they splayed 90 rounds into his Dodge Ram on Highway 93.
The informer reconnected with the team, and they moved into the wired safe house. Oddly, no one grew suspicious even after the sudden appearance of cop cars interceded in an assassination as it was happening.
Cardona became aware he was being followed, although he seemed unconcerned. In a chat with a whiny girlfriend, he admitted his part in the Resendez hit — while investigators listened.
The next day, Cardona told the informer the orders had come down. The target was someone named Checo, a Sinaloan smuggler, with details to come.
And then the stun grenade landed in the safe house.
Two medals of the Zetas drug cartel are on display at the Museum of Drugs in Mexico City.
Cardona pleaded guilty to the four known murders in the U.S. At sentencing, Moreno pointed out that the murder rate in Laredo had dropped by half since his arrest three years before.
The judge noted that while Cardona was not in charge of Los Zetas, he was the head of the Laredo operation. She sentenced him to 80 years.
Later in 2006, Reta went rogue from the Zetas — shooting up a Monterrey nightclub, killing four and wounding others. He was arrested and extradited to face charges in the U.S.
Reta, rumored to have committed as many as 30 murders, would linger over fast-food meals in the interrogation room with Garcia.
He spoke breezily of feeding live humans to white tigers or burning them in oil drums. The hackings, the tortures, the camps, all fond memories to him now.
Reta was sentenced 70 years in prison.
“Wolf Boys: Two Americans Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel” by Dan Slater is on sale Sept. 13.