The players in the Zetas horse racing laundering scandal.
By Nick Carraway
Mason County Daily News
The general manager of a U.S. horseracing track denied allegations Monday that the chief of Mexico's most violent drug cartel had fixed a $1 million race so his own horse would win.
According to two confidential FBI informants, Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, also known as "40," bragged that he had paid the gatekeepers at New Mexico's Ruidoso Downs $10,000 "to hold back the horses" competing against his own horse, Mr. Piloto, in the 2010 All American Futurity Race, which Mr. Piloto won.
Trevino Morales and 13 other defendants were indicted last week for allegedly laundering at least $20 million in cocaine profits through horse racing, breeding and training in the U.S. The informants' claims were part of an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant for an Oklahoma horse ranch allegedly owned by a Zetas front corporation.
Shaun Hubbard, general manager of Ruidoso Downs, adamantly denied the informants' alleged charge.
"We have looked at the videotape of the 2010 All American Futurity from every angle many times in recent days and can see no evidence of any horse being held or denied a fair start," said Hubbard in a statement to ABC News.
"We can find no evidence that there was any wrongdoing by our starting-gate crew," added Hubbard. "We also want to make it clear that we have totally cooperated with the FBI investigation and will continue to offer support for this investigation."
One of the confidential informants also alleged in the affidavit that his horses had competed against horses belonging to Omar Trevino Morales, AKA 42, in Mexico but, that 42's horses "would always win because of CI #1's knowledge that '42' would get upset at a loss and most likely kill his opponent as a result."
A third confidential informant allegedly stated that in 2007, in Monclova, Mexico, an individual named Triana had entered his own rooster in a cockfight against a rooster owned by 42. Triana's rooster won. "Approximately 15 days after the rooster fight, '42' had Triana killed because '42's' rooster had lost the fight," CI #3 allegedly said.
Miguel Angel Trevino and Omar Trevino allegedly laundered their drug profits through a horseracing operation run by a third brother, Jose, and his wife, according to the U.S. indictment handed down in Texas last week. Jose Trevino Morales, his wife and six other defendants were arrested. Miguel Angel and Omar remain at large in Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Administration has offered $5 million apiece for information leading to the capture of Miguel Angel and Omar.
The brothers, whose numeric aliases refer to their alleged rank within the Zetas at the time of the cartel's creation several years ago, are now allegedly top leaders of an organization that controls drug trafficking in the east and south of Mexico. Miguel, or "40," allegedly runs the Zetas along with "3," Heriberto Lazcano.
The Zetas began in 1999 when former members of the Mexican military signed on to work as security for the Gulf drug cartel. The Zetas went into business for themselves and are now at war with the Gulf Cartel. The Zetas are based in Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
Indictment Links Prominent Texas Family's Horse Stable to Zetas Money-Laundering Case
Grahams have made campaign contributions to Texas' top elected officials
By Andrew Wheat and Forrest Wilder
A prominent Texas family with connections to the state’s top officials is alleged to have purchased and boarded horses for a Mexican drug cartel engaged in money laundering, according to court records.
Federal indictments recently unsealed in Austin allege that 14 defendants with Spanish surnames used elite U.S. racehorses to launder millions of dollars of drug money for Mexico’s ruthless Los Zetas cartel. The indictments also implicate the renowned Southwest Stallion Station breeding stables outside Austin, run by a veterinarian named Charles Graham and his grandson Tyler.
Over the past decade, they have contributed almost $250,000 to federal and state politicians led by Texas’ top three officials. In 2008 Gov. Perry appointed Dr. Graham to the now-defunct Texas Department of Rural Affairs. The Grahams haven’t been charged with wrongdoing, and their names don’t appear in the indictments.
But allegations made against their stables in the indictments suggest that the Zetas cartel paid the Grahams a small fortune in recent years. In all, Tyler Graham bought more than $1 million worth of horses that ended up in the hands of the Zetas cartel, which made at least $550,000 in payments to the Grahams’ stable, according to trade publications and the indictment.
The Grahams didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
While never mentioning the Grahams, the money-laundering indictment alleges that the Zeta conspirators paid their Southwest Stallion stables $550,000 last July to board and breed Zeta racehorses. One way the cartel laundered money, according to the indictment, was to let cartel flunkies hold title to a horse until it won a big race or became lucrative through the sale of breeding rights.
Then backdated contracts were drawn up suggesting that Jose Treviño—one of three brothers at the center of the conspiracy—presciently bought the champ on the relative cheap just before it hit the big leagues, according to the indictments. One Zeta horse was not-so-subtly christened Number One Cartel.
In 2010 Tyler Graham went to Oklahoma City to attend the horse auction at Heritage Place, a 40-acre facility co-owned by Charles Graham, according to TRACK Magazine. Amid a global economic crisis, average sales prices at the auction increased by 14 percent over the year before. Driving this inflation, Tyler Graham placed the winning bids on the event’s two most-expensive horses. He bid $250,000 for a young mare named Coronita Cartel and a record $875,000 for the breeding mare Dashin Follies.
TRACK Magazine reported at the time that Graham shipped the mares home to Southwest Stallion Stables—but not on his own account. The trade publication reported that Graham “was acting as an agent for an undisclosed buyer who reportedly is a Mexican resident.”
Describing that same auction, the recent indictments allege that defendant Jose Treviño “directed the purchase” of both horses “in a nominee name.” Then a company controlled by Mexican businessman Alejandro Barrandas allegedly wired more than $900,000 while defendant Luis Gerardo Aguirre allegedly supplied another $100,000 in cash, according to the indictments.
Two other defendants allegedly then paid to board the horses for six weeks at the stables before the prize horse were shipped to Jose Treviño’s Oklahoma ranch, according to the indictment.
In August, Tyler Graham posted photos on Facebook of some of his yearlings, including Tahiti Cartel. Sired by Carona Cartel, the horse sold at Heritage Place in September 2011 for $50,000.
Among Graham’s friends on Facebook: Ramiro Villarreal, a gifted Mexican horseman who Miguel Treviño, the second-highest ranking Zeta, recruited to help build his quarterhorse enterprise. At some point, Villarreal reluctantly became a DEA informant, according to The New York Times; in March 2011, his charred remains were found in a car outside Nuevo Laredo.
Trade publications and the recent indictments indicate that Tyler Graham bought more than $1 million worth of horses that wound up with the Zetas and that cartel made at least $550,000 in payments to the Grahams’ stable. It’s not clear if the Grahams knew who they were buying horses for. The copy of the indictments made public redacts the name of one unknown defendant.
Not in doubt are the Graham’s political connections. Since 2001, the Grahams have contributed $32,025 to Perry’s campaign account, accord to state records. They’ve also donated to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ($17,100), House Speaker Joe Straus ($15,500), a San Antonio Republican, and state Sen. Kirk Watson ($15,500), an Austin Democrat.
El Paso man accused of helping Zetas appears in court
US Open Borders
An El Paso man accused of helping one of Mexico’s most brutal drug cartels launder money appeared in court on Tuesday.
Raul Ramirez, 20, was arrested in El Paso on Monday afternoon, said Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Antonio.
Ramirez is accused of participating in a money-laundering scheme to buy racehorses worth millions of dollars on behalf of Francisco Antonio Colorado Cessa. A federal indictment says Colorado Cessa would then transfer ownership of the animals to Jose Trevino, whose brothers are reputed Zetas' drug cartel leaders Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino.
Ramirez was indicted on May 30 along with 13 others, four of whom remain at large, and one who has posted bond. The group is accused of using $20 million raised since 2008 by Los Zetas cartel to buy, sell and race quarter horses — including at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino.
Among those indicted was Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, 38, also known as “40.” He is co-leader of the Nuevo Laredo-based Zetas, federal authorities said in court documents.
Treviño and a brother, Oscar Omar Treviño Morales, 36, also known as “42,” are thought to be hiding in Mexico. A third brother, Jose Treviño Morales, 45, was arrested last week in Oklahoma on allegations that he ran his brothers’ U.S. horse operation.
Ramirez is accused of bidding on quarter horses for the Treviños on behalf of shell companies meant to hide the horses’ true ownership.
He is charged with a single count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. If convicted, Ramirez faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Mesa told him in court on Tuesday.
Standing with about 25 other prisoners in shackles, chains and a jail jumpsuit, Ramirez responded “Presente” when Mesa called his name. But the slight young man said he did not need a headset carrying a Spanish translation of the proceedings.
Ramirez told the judge that he planned to hire his own lawyer, who is expected to be present when Ramirez appears for a bond hearing on Friday.
Federal prosecutors have filed papers asking that Ramirez be denied bail, citing the risk that he might flee and “a serious risk that the person will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, or attempt to threaten, injure or intimidate a prospective witness or juror.”
Los Zetas have become known in recent months for dumping scores of bodies in Mexico with no heads, hands or feet.
Informants told federal agents that Oscar Treviño has boasted that he personally has killed more than 1,000 people and his brother, Miguel, has killed more than 2,000, according to an affidavit supporting a search warrant that was executed last week in Balch Springs, Texas.
The affidavit supporting the search warrant served at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack remains sealed, Fields said.
Horse trainer accused in Zetas case to be released from jail
By Steven Kreytak
After questioning the strength of the government's case against a Central Texas horse trainer accused of conspiring to launder money with members of a brutal drug cartel, a judge in Austin on Monday ordered the trainer released from jail pending trial.
Government prosecutors, who had argued that Eusevio Maldonado Huitrón could flee the country or be at risk of violent retribution if released, initially appealed the ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andy Austin but later dropped that appeal. Huitrón is expected to be released today, said his lawyer, José Gonzalez-Falla, an assistant federal public defender.
Austin's ruling came at the end of a hearing that lasted parts of two days and touched on the brutal reputation of the Zetas drug cartel and whether Huitrón, 49, knew that he had been training horses for the cartel with drug money.
"All I've heard is that Mr. Huitrón was a trainer that was hired by" accused cartel members, Austin said from the bench. "Is there any allegation beyond that?"
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Fernald referenced court documents that included allegations that Huitrón received money from the Zetas and said: "The allegation is that ... Los Zetas only has blood money, and when they pay that money out to someone who knows that is blood money, then that is conspiracy to commit money laundering."
Huitrón, who lives in Austin and trains dozens of horses at a ranch in the Bastrop County community of Dale, is one of 15 accused Zetas members or associates charged with laundering millions of dollars in drug-dealing profits through the U.S. quarter horse industry. Eight of them, including Huitrón, were arrested last week across several states, where search and seizure warrants were carried out in a coordinated federal effort.
An indictment handed up in Austin charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit money laundering, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Charged in the indictment are Zetas leaders and brothers Miguel Angel Treviño Morales and Oscar Omar Treviño Morales, who are believed to be in Mexico and have not been arrested.
The indictment and a federal search warrant affidavit said that the brothers recruited a series of straw purchasers and others to buy racing horses on their behalf and then paid for them to be trained at several locations, including Huitrón's.
If a horse became profitable, its ownership was transferred to José Treviño Morales or various companies he controlled at low prices, allowing him to show large, apparently legitimate profits from minimal investments, a search warrant affidavit said.
Prosecutors say José Treviño, a third brother, ran the operation in the United States.
Treviño was arrested in Oklahoma and will be brought to Austin to face the indictment.
At Monday's hearing, Huitrón's brother testified that together they came to the United States from their native Mexico in 1980 and both are resident aliens. Together they started a homebuilding business and also went into the horse business, Jessie Huitrón said. They once sold a horse for about $300,000, he said. Under questioning by Fernald, Jessie Huitrón said he had only heard of the Zetas through news reports.
Shae Cox, an El Paso woman who met Eusevio Huitrón through the horse business, described him as extremely honest.