AUSTIN, Texas - A multimillion-dollar horse racing and breeding operation run from an Oklahoma ranch was actually a front for a notorious Mexican cartel to launder millions of dollars in drug money, prosecutors alleged Tuesday at the beginning of a trial for five defendants charged in the scheme.
Jose Trevino Morales, the younger brother of the suspected leader of the Zetas drug cartel, is charged with money laundering conspiracy. His trial along with four co-defendants facing the same charge began Tuesday in Austin, Texas.
Prosecutor Douglas Gardner told jurors Tuesday that Trevino had been put in charge of the scheme by his brothers, who are alleged to be at the top of one of the biggest, most versatile and violent criminal organizations in the world. The scheme went through $16 million in horse-related expenses in 30 months, Gardner said.
In this June 12, 2012 file photo, FBI agents overlook a horse ranch under investigation in Lexington, Okla. Prosecutors in Texas say Jose Trevino Morales, a brother of two top leaders of Los Zetas, oversaw the purchase of hundreds of quarter horses at a ranch in Oklahoma. He's charged with conspiracy to launder drug money in a case with more than a dozen other defendants.
Gardner painted a picture of a conspiracy in which horse owners, trainers and others crafted bank deposits to hide the true source of the operation's funding. He said they created companies that bought horses with the cartel's money and even fixed the outcome of horse races.
"The Zetas make money by drugs, extortion, bribery and send the money to the U.S. to buy racehorses," he said.
Gardner alleged Trevino, 46, ran the operation for his brothers - Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales. He alleged a Mexican businessman, Francisco Antonio Colorado Cessa, bought horses for the Zetas through his oil services company, which authorities say was also a front for the drug cartel.
The three other defendants on trial- Fernando Solis Garcia, Eusevio Maldonado Huitron and his older brother Jesus Maldonado Huitron - are accused of buying horses for the cartel or laundering money through personal accounts.
But David Finn, Morales' attorney, called his client a "legitimate horseman" who is being targeted by prosecutors due to his brothers' alleged crimes.
"This isn't some front," Finn said. "It's a legitimate, real business ... built on the sweat of my client and his wife."