US authorities may end up with a major equine headache as they continue to unravel the workings of a quarter horse racing operation alleged to have been laundering drug money for a Mexican crime syndicate.
The government this week took custody of 12 abandoned horses after their trainers refused to continue caring for them.
In all, more than 400 horses were involved in the operation across several states.
A federal grand jury in the Western District of Texas has returned an indictment charging 14 people, including the leader of the Los Zetas criminal syndicate in Mexico, Miguel Angel Trevino-Morales – also known as “40” – and his brothers, Oscar Omar Trevino-Morales (“42”) and Jose Trevino-Morales.
They are charged in connection with an alleged conspiracy to launder Los Zetas drug distribution proceeds through the horse operation.
Federal authorities are seeking forfeiture of the horses in the case, including several top-performing animals.
Prosecutors are hoping a previously issued protective order would force companies used to front the alleged operation to pay for the ongoing care of many horses involved. However, the need to seize the 12 horses is a sign it may not be plain sailing.
Authorities have estimated it would have cost about $US200,000 a month to care for the hundreds of horses in the US operation, spread across Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.
They will be concerned about preserving the value of the animals in anticipation of their forfeiture and eventual sale.
The indictment, returned on May 30, 2012, and unsealed on Tuesday, charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
The indictment alleges that, since 2008, Miguel and Oscar Trevino-Morales would direct portions of the bulk cash generated from the sale of illegal narcotics through the Los Zetas cartel to Jose and Zulema Trevino for purchasing, training, breeding and racing quarter horses in the US.
The indictment identifies millions of dollars worth of transactions in New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Texas involving a large number of quarter horses.
Jose Trevino, Zulema Trevino and others used “front” companies to conceal and disguise the true ownership of the quarter horses.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Armando Fernandez said the investigation revealed the varied attempts by Mexican drug cartels to further their criminal enterprises by any means necessary.
“The FBI and its partners stand ready to combat all efforts by transnational criminal organizations to undermine our national security wherever and whenever they may be uncovered.”
The indictment seeks the forfeiture of numerous quarter horses, including Tempting Dash, winner of the Dash for Cash at the Lone Star Park racetrack in Grand Prairie, Texas, on October 24, 2009; Mr Piloto, the $US1 million All American Futurity winner at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day, 2010; Dashin Follies; Coronita Cartel; and Separate Fire.
The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of farm and ranch equipment, horse-racing equipment, real estate in Lexington, Oklahoma, and in Bastrop County, Texas; and funds in three bank accounts allegedly used in the defendants’ scheme.
The indictment also seeks $US20 million, representing the amount of money derived from the defendants’ scheme.