The first time Martin Corona murdered somebody, he didn’t hesitate.
“It’s an ugly business,” the killer reasoned, “but it’s a business.”
Corona, a paid member of the Arellano-Félix Mexican cartel’s elite Death Squad, was sent north to Los Angeles to wipe out two members of a rival gang.
A good hit takes careful planning. Pulling the trigger is only 10 percent of the job. The rest comes down to scoping and calculating for any contingency.
At 9 a.m. on a sunny Monday morning some two decades ago, Corona and his crew rolled up on their targets, who were standing outside of a building in a bad part of Los Angeles. Because the neighborhood was gang territory, Corona made sure he and his team were dressed in brown, yellow, black and green — colors that were not gang-affiliated and would not draw attention.
A lookout yelled a coded warning: “Aqua! Aqua!” But it was too late. The targets were cornered, and Corona pumped four mercury-tipped bullets into one man.
Corona walked away from the hit that day, but he did not escape unscathed. His actions soon began to gnaw at him.
His partial shot at redemption is “Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man” (Dutton, out July 25), a tell-all memoir recounting his days working for the infamous Arellano-Felix gang that dominated the Southern California drug trade.
“I’m not proud of my past,” Corona told The Post. “It’s really humiliating waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror knowing the things you’ve done. I was hoping that through all this, I could convince someone else not to make the same choices I did.”
Corona, now 53, has murdered at least eight people — including a soldier in Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s cartel — and was sentenced to roughly 25 years in prison in 2001. He was released in 2014 after becoming a federal witness and now works in construction. He had a wife and two kids prior to being incarcerated, but won’t say what his family situation is now. (Becaue Corona’s representatives fear for his safety, photos of him aren’t available.)
The killer has been in and out of prison his entire life. He grew up near San Diego, the son of a tough Marine father. He played Little League and football and was a Boy Scout. But Corona’s life started to go wrong when, as a 12-year-old, he and a friend mowed a man’s lawn, and the man paid the boys in pot instead of cash.
After that, he began dealing drugs and committing other crimes, including stealing 27 fur coats from a department store. Corona’s life really took a turn when, also at age 12, he discovered that the man he thought was his biological father, wasn’t.
“I lost the trust factor,” Corona said. “What could I believe in in this world? Who could I trust?”
The answer turned out to be a local gang.
“I was a lost soul,” he recalled. “These people accepted me. They treated me with respect, and at the time, it seemed like admiration and love.”
He spent much of his early years in juvenile detention for various crimes, and there, he became more hardened and made connections that would eventually land him in the employ of the cartel.
As an enforcer, he was required to sit in a Mexican house for five days a week — no drinking, drugs or women — waiting for a call from his bosses. On one job, he was tasked with assassinating two Tijuana women who were suspected of informing. Corona shot them as they sat in a car and looked in the back seat to find the terrified 7-year-old daughter of one of the women.
At that moment, Corona vowed to get out of the life. After 16 months as a cartel enforcer, he moved back to California and was eventually arrested on a weapons charge. Corona soon learned that the government had compiled an extensive file on his cartel activity, and he cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against other enforcers and several high-level cartel members.
Now straight and in witness supervision, Corona said he doesn’t worry about retribution from his enemies.
“If you feel you need to come at me in a vengeful way, then hey, you know what? I didn’t get to where I got to being a coward,” he said.
“I’m not gonna sit there and be looking over my shoulder and live in fear the rest of my life.”
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