Old-school Gulf Cartel figure ‘Rafita 82’ killed in Nuevo León

“MX” for Borderland Beat; TY “leChef”

Rafael Isassi Garcia held significant power in Tampico, Tamaulipas, as a Gulf Cartel plaza boss

Rafael Isassi Garcia, commonly referred to by his alias “Rafita 82”, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Santiago Municipality, a suburb in the Monterrey metropolitan area. Investigators say four armed men attacked Isassi while he was heading to a ranch.

Neighborhood residents told the police that they heard at least nine gunshots and saw a Dodge Durango vehicle leave the crime scene at a high speed seconds after the attack. Paramedics were called to the site and confirmed that Isassi was killed instantly. He was traveling with his nephew Javier (aged 20) who survived with minor injuries. Surveillance cameras captured the Dodge Durango vehicle in question. Authorities have the vehicle’s license plates but did not confirm if they were able to see the assailants’ faces.

Isassi was a high-ranking Gulf Cartel member who once held a top cartel role in the Tampico, Tamaulipas, plaza for many years. He worked under former cartel boss Juan Carlos de la Cruz Reyna, a close henchmen of legendary kingpin Osiel Cardenas Guillen. Both of his former bosses are serving prison time in the United States after being extradited from Mexico over a decade ago.


Isassi was an old-school boss whose membership dates back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. At that time the top cartel boss was Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the former leader of the co-organization of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.

Although he held ties with Matamoros, the Gulf Cartel’s bastion, Isassi was based in Tampico and helped cement the cartel’s presence in southern Tamaulipas. He worked under Juan Carlos de la Cruz Reyna (alias “El JC”), a former state police officer. Both El JC and Cardenas Guillen were extradited to the U.S. in 2007 and are serving prison time. They will be released from prison in 2021 and 2024, respectively.

Isassi’s former boss Juan Carlos de la Cruz Reyna was the plaza boss of Tampico from 2001 to 2007. He is currently imprisoned in the U.S. for bribery charges and is expected to be released next year. According to his U.S. indictment, he will be deported back to Mexico.

While Isassi was based in Tampico in the 2010s, the Gulf Cartel was experiencing a civil war between several local cells. While contesting the Tampico plaza, Isassi’s men reportedly killed Lazaro Martinez Rodriguez (alias “Escorpion”), the suspected plaza boss of Ciudad Madero. His body was dumped outside of the bar he owned with a written message stabbed on his chest, as reported by Borderland Beat.

It was rumored that Isassi helped the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) set a foothold in northern Veracruz in 2011 to help combat the rival Zetas gang. At that time Isassi was a regional boss in southern Tamaulipas and also had ties with Veracruz and San Luis Potosi. However, in September 2019, the CJNG publicly announced that they wanted Isassi dead and exposed details of his criminal network.

Isassi was the shareholder of Garcher Evolution, a residential and commercial painting company based in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon. His company was working with construction firms near the new Mexico City airport. According to a Mexican newspaper, two of Isassi’s projects were operating illegally in 2019.

Sources: Punto X Punto; El Porvenir; Telediario; El Universal; Valor Tamaulipeco; Borderland Beat archives