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The secret tale of drugworld assassins – How two American teens, Rosalio Reta and Gabriel Cardona turned into cold, fearsome killing machines for Mexico’s notorious Los Zetas drug cartel

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Wolf Boys’: How Mexico’s notorious Los Zetas drug cartel fashioned two American teens into brutal assassins – a book on the lives of teenage cartel hitmen by Dan Slater

Childhood buddies Rosalio Reta, 24,  and Gabriel Cardona, 26, went from poor kids inLaredo Texas to loathsome efficient machines

They were valued as much for their killing skills, as their ability to slip across borders, being American citizens, by the cartel

Finally busted by feds and tried, Reta was sentenced 70 years in prison, Cardona is serving 80 years


Gabriel Cardona was 17, when he went from a teenage petty criminal in Laredo, Texas, to becoming Trevino’s most valuable hitman

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Childhood buddies: Gabriel Cardona (top) and Rosalio Reta (below) went from poor kids in Laredo to cold blooded killing machines. They spoke to the author, Dan Slater, from jail where both are serving life sentences. Symbol of the professional assassin – Reta has bizarre markings around his eyes;
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, Texas.
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.”
When the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, in the mid-’90s, succeded in shutting down the cocaine trafficking route between South Florida and Colombia, about 90% of the cocaine and much of the methamphetamine that reached the U.S. was instead now funneled through Mexico.

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A new book by veteran journalist Dan Slater details the downside of the DEA success story. “Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel.” Narrates how the mayhem that was the hallmark of cartels threatened to spilled over the border from Mexico into the US.
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, Texas.
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. The rules of engagement were forever altered when in 2004, The Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo fell under the control of Los Zetas, the vicious enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, and its regional commander Miguel (Forty) Trevino.wolfboy the book.jpg

“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.
Dan Slater  tells the story of young hitman,  Reta. On a dusty, remote ranch across the Rio Grande from this Texas border town, an intimidating drug lord stood over 13-year-old Rosalio Reta and handed him a gun.
Reta didn’t know who the man was, but it was clear he instilled fear and commanded respect among everyone standing around watching the dramatic scene unfold.
The American teen had never before met anyone who carried a pistol adorned with such an unforgettable decoration: the number “40” encrusted in diamonds on the handle.
The cartel leader looked at Reta and ordered him to shoot and kill a man tied up on the ground. If he refused to murder the stranger, Reta recalls, the drug lord would have killed him.
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Rosalio Reta’s career as a teen drug cartel assassin had begun.
“I knew that my life had just changed forever,” Reta told CNN this week, 11 years later. “That’s a day that I’m never going to be able to forget. After that, I didn’t have no life.”
Reta’s boyhood friend Gabriel Cardona says he started his life as a criminal by stealing cars and selling them across the border in Mexico. He graduated to smuggling drugs and weapons across the Rio Grande. Cardona says it wasn’t long before he also became a drug cartel assassin. He was only 16.
Reta and Cardona agreed to give CNN rare interviews from the Texas prisons where both men are serving life sentences for murder. They offered a first-hand glimpse inside the sinister world of drug cartels, a world that plagues innocent people on both sides of the border.
17-year-old Gabriel Cardona , a poor kid from Laredo, 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 Cardona2

 Cardona has drawings of eyeballs tattooed on his eyelids. A large image of “Santa Muerte” — or Saint of Death — marks Cardona’s back. Denounced by Mexico’s Catholic Church, Santa Muerte is a popular symbol among drug traffickers. – He says he has no remorse for his past deeds.

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Gabriel Cardona brought in his boyhood pal Rosalio ‘Bart’ Reta (pictured) who secretly had been with Los Zetas since adolescence. He was personally trained by  Fourty Trevino and quickly became the star pupil. Turnrd himself in when the noose started tightening, from rival cartels

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.

leader of the Zetas drug carteL, Oscar Omar Trevino, aka "Z-42," is taken into custody1.jpgThe alleged leader of the Zetas drug carteL, Oscar Omar Trevino, aka “Z-40,” in custody in March, 2015. He freely admitted to more than 800 murders

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.

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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.

 weapons, grenades and two kilos of cocaine seized from the drug cartel in Mexico City in 20101.jpgWeapons and cocaine haul by agents from the drug cartel, Mexico City, 2010

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. 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 Zetas1.jpgThe cartels aer well funded and well armed: Mexican Federal Police guard amazing weapons cache seized from Los Zetas.

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.
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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, and the bust happened.
Meeing Gabriel Cardona behind bars presents a deceptive facade, it’s hard to imagine he could have been a lethal assassin. But then there are those eyes tattooed on his eyelids.
Cardona a notoriously effective killer for the Zetas, smiled when asked how many people he remembers killing for the Zetas.
“I have no idea,” Cardona said. “It’s a violent world.”
After some prodding, Cardona estimates he probably killed close to 30 people in less than two years.
Cardona and Reta say they were paid thousands of dollars a week just to be available — ready at all times to answer the call to kill.

The life of the high roller, Cardona (right) before his arrest
When orders from cartel leaders came, the men would begin hunting their prey.
It’s hard to pinpoint just how much money they were paid. Cardona claims he was spending more than $10,000 a week. The men say cartel leaders provided them with a house and extravagant cars. Cardona was often seen driving around town in a Mercedes.
For each ordered hit, they said, they were paid an extra fee, about $10,000, and sometimes even more depending on the importance of the targeted victim.

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The money and lifestyle were so seductive and intoxicating that both teenagers dropped out of school. Reta dropped out sixth grade while Cardona left school in ninth grade.
“It gives you that sense that you could do anything without being touched and having that sense of power,” Cardona said.
“You think that it’s not going to end because it just keeps coming.”
During interrogation, Reta told a Laredo police detective how killing made him feel like “Superman.”
The job of a cartel assassin isn’t one most people grow old and retire from. They either end up in prison, or it’s likely their tortured corpse will be left along a blood-soaked path to nowhere in the Mexican countryside.
Cardona and Reta didn’t last long in that world. They each say they lived the life for about three years, Cardona from age 16 to 19; Reta, from age 13 to 16.
Eventually Laredo police detectives zeroed in on the teen assassins.
Cardona was arrested and pled guilty to killing seven men and to conspiracy to kidnap and kill in a foreign country. He was sentenced to more than 80 years in prison.
Reta said he began to fear that rival cartel members were getting close to killing him as retribution, so while working on an assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, he called a contact at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and surrendered.

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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 pleaded guilty to two murders and was handed two prison sentencesfor a total of 70 years.
“I’ve come to regret everything I’ve done,” Reta said. “I couldn’t take it anymore. It was real hard for me. I wasn’t living my life.”
For his part, Cardona is not as remorseful. He doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the violence he wielded, he said. His mind isn’t haunted by violent images from his former life.
“I’m really a good person,” he said. “It just happened.”
“I always had thought that if I die, it’s going to be by a bullet in the head,” he said. “I never thought that I was going to die in prison.”
 At sentencing, prosecutors  pointed out that the murder rate in Laredo had dropped by half since his arrest three years earlier.
The judge noted that while Cardona was not in charge of Los Zetas, he was the head of the Laredo operation.

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