Boy started smuggling at 13

BROWNSVILLE - "Mario" is 16 years old. He plays football and gets good grades. He is a normal teen does except for his past.

Four years ago, Mario and four of his neighbors worked together smuggling people and drugs from Matamoros to Brownsville. All were under 13 at the time.

Mario says he was recruited by one of their fathers.

They were known as "watchmen." Mario and the watchmen secured passage for adult smugglers bringing people across the river. They would study the border cameras and work around them to stay out of view.

Dozens of illegal aliens would walk across shallow portions of the river and hide in the brush. Mario and the watchmen would guide them to a car waiting nearby.

Between smuggling people, the boys would pick up a load of drugs and take them to a stash house in the neighborhood.

Mario and his crew were paid big bucks for their efforts. In less than 10 minutes, he could easily make $2,000. Mario would spend it immediately on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

Mario says his parents were divorced and they never knew. His mom worked two jobs to support him and his little sister. He says it wasn't enough to feed him or to have money for school clothing. He says he was so frustrated with his situation, he felt like he had to.

Eventually, Mario began to realize that what he was doing was wrong. He didn't want to end up in jail. Mario wanted to do well in school and to play football like other kids his age.

Even though he's out of the business, Mario says sometimes the phone still rings with people asking if he will come back. But Mario realizes the consequences will be greater than the reward.

He still feels the fear when he walks the river's edge. He says he realizes how lucky he is to get out with his life intact. And now he feels lucky to be moving on with his life. ... -and-Drugs