Martin Corona is sorry for all those people brutally killed during his run as a drug syndicate executioner.
His apology comes in the form of a new book exploiting his crimes in gruesome detail. And “Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man” has best-seller written on every page.
Corona was sprung from federal lockup in 2014, a mere 12 years after snitching on his confederates in a viciously murderous Mexican drug operation, the Arellano Felix Organization.
Corona’s information led to multiple arrests that decimated the AFO hierarchy.
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He admitted to personally executing eight people — several from the same family — and participating in other carnage. The AFO, which inspired the movie “Traffic,” was known for its sadistic atrocities.
Cutting-edge butchery like the Mexican stew — stuffing victims alive into 55-gallon barrels of hot lye — was later adopted as a business practice by competing cartels.
Corona was recruited in 1993 by David (Popeye) Barron, an infamous hitman for the Arellano brothers, Benjamin, Ramon and Javier. He had saved Ramon’s life the year before.
Armed only with an AK-47, Corona single-handedly held off 40 assassins sent by Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman to annihilate everyone in a Puerto Vallarta nightclub.
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He used his free hand to push Ramon to safety through a bathroom window.
Shortly afterward, he opened fire on El Chapo at a Guadalajara airport — and missed, instead taking out Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, a high-ranking prelate in Mexico’s Catholic Church.
El Chapo escaped.
The public outrage drove the AFO underground, though Barron’s Death Squad stayed active. He personally instructed Corona exactly where to plunge a knife into “a bound man who was screaming for his life.”
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Though an early assassination attempt on rival Sinaloa Cartel head Amado Carrillo Fuentes failed, the AFO kept after him. According to Corona, the cartel had a hit team inside the Mexico City hospital where Fuentes died while undergoing plastic surgery in 1997.
Barron’s Death Squad trained with the Mexican federal police, and often wore Federale uniforms on the job. Corona dressed casually, though, for his first execution on U.S. soil.
The target, a Sinaloa associate who owned beauty parlors in Tijuana. When Corona knocked on her door in Imperial Beach, Calif., the woman’s daughter judged the killer — wearing jeans and “nerdy glasses” — a safe bet.
She let him inside.
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Corona and two other killers fired five rounds into the mother’s head, but let the daughter live. They fled the house, only to learn from a newspaper account that they left behind $ 500,000 hidden inside a closet.
On Corona’s next big job, the squad scaled the walls of a Tijuana compound, tying up the first family they found — a man, his wife and their 5-year-old twin daughters.
At the main house, Corona held an infant and several other children at bay while Barron murdered the homeowner upstairs. Corona, in a brief show of compassion, allowed the wife to breastfeed her baby.
She was then stabbed to death.
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Around the same time, Ramon Arellano ordered Barron to execute a man named Ronnie Svoboda in a dispute over a woman. Corona either wasn’t in on the Tijuana kill — or doesn’t admit to it.
But he caught the next job after Svoboda’s sisters Ivonne and Luz went to the police about the hit. Ivonne had only just returned from a year in Paris modeling for “Mademoiselle” magazine.
Corona cornered the two in a San Diego alley after the siblings climbed into their car. Disguised with an Afro wig and sunglasses, he crept up on the sisters.
He fired three shots into Ivonne’s head. Luz took a bullet in the chest. In the same moment when the killer realized Luz was pregnant, a little girl screamed from the backseat.
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Both sisters survived the murder attempt, although Ivonne suffered major brain damage. Corona writes that shooting a pregnant woman and terrifying a child left him tormented.
Yet one month later he was holding the same little girl, Luz’s 9-year-old daughter, at gunpoint while Barron murdered her father.
According to Corona, a seven-man crew dressed in Federale uniforms stormed into a house in Tijuana. The target this time was Luz Svoboda’s husband.
Corona was told to take the man’s child and her grandmother into the other bathroom. He doesn’t mention recognizing the girl, though the connection was obvious.
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“You aren’t going to kill me, are you?” the terrified child asked.
“No, mija,” the assassin replied soothingly. “I’m not going to kill you. And nobody else will.”
Instead of following orders to tie her up, Corona allowed the child to just hold onto the rope.
“When we leave, you can let go of the rope and call for help,” he advised her.
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Corona claims that he was prepared to murder any of the men — including Barron — if a move was made to harm the girl or her grandmother.
At one point, he wandered from the hostages into the bathroom where the killer had taken the girl’s father. The man was lying in tub, covered by a sheet.
Suddenly, he heard a “disgusting, cracking, squishy noise from behind me.”
Barron had delivered the first of several pulverizing blows to the man’s face with a 5-pound sledgehammer.
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The little girl and her grandmother weren’t injured — though the child had suffered her second family trauma at Corona’s hands.
Back at his home, Corona and his second wife were expecting their first child. The couple stood to make a fortune if she delivered a boy; Ramon offered $ 1 million if he was chosen as godfather for a namesake child.
By the time Corona’s daughter was born, he was living with his wife in San Diego. In his final phone call with Ramon, he quit the Death Squad while promising to never turn on the AFO.
Ramon invited Corona to come and enjoy a cruise on his new yacht. Corona knew if that ship sailed, he was going overboard.
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In 2000, Corona started a long conversation with Special Agent Steve Duncan of the California Justice Department. The arrests that followed his accounts of AFO savagery dismantled the cartel’s upper ranks.
Duncan eventually reached out to the Svoboda sisters. Luz had since remarried and kept her past a secret from her new husband. Her 9-year-old daughter was now a grown woman.
Duncan stayed in touch with the still-traumatized woman until 2015, even though the calls upset her. Informed that Corona had been released from prison the year before, she said she never wanted to speak to Duncan again.
Duncan also passed on a letter Corona wrote to the sisters telling them he’d willingly spend the rest of his life behind bars to “make up for shooting them.”
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According to Corona, one of the sisters wrote back to say they forgave him for the San Diego shooting and the murder of their brother.
“They saw me as much a victim as they were,” he claimed.
Corona also wrote duplicate letters apologizing to several of his victims’ families, identifying himself as the “same evil some of your loved ones had to look upon as they took their last breath.”
Corona now lives on supervised release, protected by the U.S. government. He delivers speeches to cops across the nation, laying bare the tactics of the now defunct AFO Cartel.
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It’s an effort to make up “in some small way for the violations I inflicted,” he writes.
Duncan says Corona has shown “unflagging remorse,” but the “misfortune” continued long past his fatal intrusion into the families’ lives.
“He can never truly know the depth of the damage he did.” said Duncan. “It’s heartbreaking to see.”
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