Drug Cartel Laundered Money Through Racehorses, U.S. Says

The alleged leader of a Mexican drug cartel was charged with laundering drug proceeds through an operation that bought, bred and raced quarter horses in the U.S.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, 38, leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel, and his brothers Oscar Omar Trevino Morales and Jose Trevino-Morales were among 14 people indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas, U.S. prosecutors said yesterday. Seven of the defendants were arrested, including Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife, Zulema Trevino.

“The allegations in this indictment, if proven, would document yet another example of the corrupting influence of Mexican drug cartels within the United States, facilitated by the enormous profits generated by the illicit drug trade,” U.S. Attorney Robert L. Pitman in San Antonio said in a statement.

Since 2008, Miguel and Oscar Trevino Morales funneled cash from illegal drug sales to Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife to buy, train, breed and race the horses, using front companies to hide the cartel’s ownership, the government said. The indictment identifies transactions valued at millions of dollars in New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Texas.

The defendants are charged in the May 30 indictment, unsealed yesterday, with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Court Appearance

Daryl Fields, a spokesman for Pitman, said today that Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife made an initial appearance before a federal judge in Oklahoma City yesterday and will be transferred to San Antonio shortly.

The U.S. seeks the forfeiture of quarter horses including Tempting Dash and Mr. Piloto, as well as equipment, property in Oklahoma and Texas, funds in bank accounts and $20 million, the amount allegedly derived from the scheme.

The cartel bought at least $4.2 million worth of quarter horses, which are used in short-distance races, over a four-year period, according to the indictment.

In 2010, for example, the alleged conspirators bought 23 horses at a New Mexico auction for more than $2.2 million. They paid with a check, according to the indictment.

A year later, the conspirators bought eight horses at the Heritage Place Fall Mixed Sales in Oklahoma City for about $211,500. The horses, which included Blues Girl Choice and Forty Force, were then listed as sold to members of the organization “in order to provide the appearance of a legitimate sale,” prosecutors said in the indictment.

As part of the case, the government is seeking to force the conspirators to hand over their interests in the horses and the facilities that house them because they are proceeds from drug operations.

The case is U.S. v. Morales, A-12-cr-210-SS, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

To contact the reporter on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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