‘Ordered Hit’: The double life and murder of Officer Julian Pesina

Texas Crime Stories: Balcones Heights police officer with ties to Texas Mexican Mafia killed in San Antonio tattoo shop

The Hit

A little after 10 p.m. on May 4, 2014, outside of the Notorious Ink Tattoo and Piercing Shop in Balcones Heights, Julian Pesina was supposed to be meeting with Jerry “Spooks” Idrogo.

Both men were members of the gang known as the Texas Mexican Mafia.

The meet-up was intended to be Pesina paying the weekly tax or “dime” he owed to the Texas Mexican Mafia for selling drugs.

Instead, it turned into an execution-style murder when two men armed with a shotgun and a pistole showed up in a white car and open fire on him.

But this wasn’t your typical gang-related shooting, shielding his iconic gang tattoos was a Balcones Heights police uniform.

Pesina was living two very separate lives that collided and led to his death.

Pesina’s double life

According to federal court records, Pesina claimed to be a Texas Mexican Mafia member who had not reported to the gang in six years.

A $6,000 fine he owed was levied as long as he started reporting to gang leadership Jerry Idrogo and Ruben Reyes and selling drugs to members.

During one of those drug deals, Pesina was outed as being a cop.

That’s when Idrogo and Reyes started investigating Pesina’s day job and a hit was ultimately placed on him.

What Pesina didn’t know, his fellow officers were also looking into his ties to the Texas Mexican Mafia.

Documents obtained by KSAT Investigates show that an officer named Kenneth Ortiz brought up concerns over Pesina with then Balcones Heights Police Chief Henry Domingez.

The concerns were dismissed by Dominguez but the FBI was looking into Pesina’s shady ties.

They had set up secret surveillance cameras and were watching his every move. The week of Pesina’s murder, the FBI was planning on arresting him.

4 arrested for Pesina’s murder

Ultimately four men were arrested for Pesina’s death.

Jerry “Spooks” Idrogo

Jerry “Spooks” Idrogo was the driver of the white car that pulled up the day of Pesina’s death, he also helped organize the hit.

Idrogo had fled San Antonio and was arrested in Toledo, Ohio. When he was caught, he agreed to testify against Cardona and Santibanez.

While on the stand, he also admitted to murdering Billy Padilla, another Texas Mexican Mafia member who was killed in 2013 for failing to turn over drug money.

Idrogo was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2017.

Ruben “Menace” Reyes

Ruben “Menace” Reyes who’s also known as Menace, pled guilty in July 2016 to ordering the hit on Pesina.

Reyes also killed Texas Mexican Mafia members Ulysses Farias in front of his family in October 2013.

It was revealed in court he also shot and killed Texas Mexican Mafia members Mark “Lefty” Bernal, Carlos “Worm” Chapa, and Johnny “Smiley” Solis in January 2014.

In 2016, Reyes was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.

Alfredo “Freddy Low” Cardona and Jesse “Jay” Santibanez

Both Jesse Santibanez and Alfredo Cardona were found guilty in 2017 of one count of murder in aid of racketeering and one count of discharging a firearm during a murder in aid of racketeering.

On the day of Pesina’s murder, Santibanez and Cardona ambushed him outside of his tattoo shop.

It was caught on camera and shown in court.

After the shooting, the pair went to Cardona’s then-girlfriend’s apartment to change clothes, wash off and clean off the gun.

Court records show that they studied Pesina’s routine and dug a hole to bury him in.

Both men were sentenced to life in federal prison.

Texas Mexican Mafia: ‘They picked San Antonio to be their capital’

Bexar County district attorney investigator and gang expert Anthony Rodriguez spoke about the history and background of the Texas Mexican Mafia.

“They could have picked any city in Texas to make their capital. But they picked San Antonio to be their capital,” Rodriguez said. “When the California Mexican mafia became so large, they chose to branch out. And one of the states they branch to was Texas. Well, because San Antonio convicts were so loyal, there was only one place to make their capital, and that was San Antonio. So they got a guy named Herb Huerta, who is still alive today. He’s the lifelong president of Mexican Mafia. He was ordered to establish a chapter here in Texas, which he did.”

The gang has since grown a lot through the years and Rodriguez says that they are now a generational gang that likes to keep a low profile and is still very active.

“They do not want to garner attention from law enforcement or from the community. In the end, they are still a criminal enterprise. And so they don’t want a lot of attention... You know, when I say they are large, they’re now spanning states now,” Rodriguez said. “And now they’re raising their children into it. And so, you know, the gang membership doesn’t go away. It now is more strength and it’s become family and that makes them very dangerous and very large.

“What’s fascinating for me about them is not only do they speak their own language and they have their own culture and they have their own identity, they live among us. And most people aren’t aware. You know, you go and you go to a barber shop and there they are, cutting your hair. I mean, it’s just an interesting world that lives among us, and most people are unaware of it.”

While Rodriguez wasn’t familiar with the Pesina case as far as the specific details, he did offer some insight into it.

“The Mexican Mafia specifically and there’s a lot of prison gangs like this have a saying and the saying is there’s only one way in and only one way out. The other thing is, you know, blood in, blood out. And so what that basically means is you’re going to have to commit violence to get in and it’s going to be violent to get out. I’m unclear as to why he was murdered, but that particular lifestyle is very common for those members to end up, you know, the victim of some sort of violent crime,” Rodriguez said. “But in the end, they are people like the rest of us, although they are criminals by definition, generally they have their own agenda... And this officer is a great example of that. He is somebody who entered that world and we see what happened.”

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About the Authors

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

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