An Oklahoma auction of quarter horses which authorities allege were part of a money-laundering operation by a Mexican drug cartel has already fetched $US1 million – for just one horse.
The 340 horses, many from top breeding lines, are going under the hammer in the three-day auction.
The sale of the horses is being undertaken with the agreement of the defendants in the case. Costs of caring for the horses since their seizure in June has been substantial, with some estimates putting it at up to $US200,000 a month.
The first animals went under the hammer on Thursday at the Heritage Place Fall Mixed Sale.
The horse considered the most valuable, A Dash of Sweet Heat, fetched $US1 million.
The sale is unusual, in that is it unfolding before the completion of the criminal prosecution. The money will be held by the government pending the outcome of the case.
In all, 14 people are charged over the case, in which federal authorities allege a major quarter horse racing operation was being used to launder cash from the Zeta drug cartel.
The horses were across several states, but most came from an Oklahoma ranch run by Jose Trevino Morales, who is the brother OF two men federal authorities alleges are leaders of the cartel.
Some of those named in the indictment are fugitives believed to be living in Mexico.
The indictment, returned on May 30, 2012, 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, the authorities allege.
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,” he said at the time.
As well as the horse, 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.