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March 5, 2009


(LAREDO, Texas) - Gabriel Cardona-Ramirez, 22, has been sentenced to life imprisonment, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. Cardona-Ramirez aka “Pelon” aka “Gaby,” a hired assassin or “sicario” for the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, was convicted in August 2008 of conspiracy to kidnap and kill in a foreign country in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 956. The charges stem from the kidnapping and murder of two Laredo youths, Jorge Alfonso Aviles, 19, and Inez Villarreal, 14, from a Nuevo Laredo nightclub on March 30, 2006.

Cardona-Ramirez is one of 14 defendants arrested as a result of a 42-count indictment returned in federal court on March 4, 2008. The indictment charges a drug and money laundering conspiracy involving high-ranking members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, the enforcement arm of the cartel. As part of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges several hit squads or sicario cells operated on both sides of the border and killed members of the rival Sinaloa Cartel in an attempt to forcibly gain control of the Nuevo Laredo-Laredo port of entry and corridor. The indictment remains sealed in part pending the arrest of others charged. 

Cardona-Ramirez, a U.S. citizen and Laredo resident, eventually became the leader of one of the sicario cells and is personally charged for his involvement in five murders and four attempted murders committed on the U.S. side of the border as well as the murders of Aviles and Villarreal in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Cardona-Ramirez was charged with one count of drug conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of conspiracy to kidnap, one count of conspiracy to use a firearm in a violent crime, five counts of using a firearm in a violent crime, eight counts of interstate travel In aid of racketeering, four counts of using a juvenile to commit a violent crime and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

As part of his plea agreement, Cardona-Ramirez pleaded guilty to count 32 of the indictment admitting his involvement in the kidnapping and murders of Aviles and Villarreal and waived his rights to appeal. In addition to the maximum punishment for the offense -- life imprisonment without parole, Cardona was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. The court has ordered the federal life term of imprisonment is to be served consecutive to sentences imposed by the state court.

Cardona-Ramirez has been in federal custody without bond since his arrest in April 2006.

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation dubbed Operation “Prophecy” which resulted in the indictment was a multi-agency effort led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Laredo Police Department with significant assistance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the United States Marshal Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Webb County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety.


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