By Jason Buch and Guillermo Contreras
The stallion that launched the Zetas drug cartel's multimillion-dollar money laundering operation in the U.S. quarter horse industry sold for a record $1.7 million Friday in Oklahoma City.
Tempting Dash overcame allegations that its 2009 victory at the Dash for Cash Futurity in Grand Prairie was a fix, setting a record for a quarter horse at a public auction as the federal government sold the last of the animals seized from the Mexican drug gang last year
The difference, said Butch Wise, manager of the Lazy E Ranch in Oklahoma, is that Tempting Dash, which was sold in absentia because the horse has a blood disease but still brings in thousands of dollars per breeding, set a speed record at the Dash for Cash.
Mr. Piloto, in contrast, won the 2010 All American Futurity, quarter horse racing's richest event, with a $1 million winner's purse, after barely making it through the qualifiers.
Government prosecutors have claimed the Zetas paid bribes to fix the futurity at Ruidoso Downs, N.M., for Mr. Piloto.
“I don't think he got any respect. He didn't run a real fast time in his All-American title,” Wise said.
“Somebody's gotta be the big horse, and he's the horse behind that,” he said, referring to Tempting Dash's auction price.
Boosted by Tempting Dash, the first horse the Zetas raced successfully in this country, the U.S. government made $3.1 million at Friday's auction.
Since seizing about 500 horses from the Zetas last year, the Internal Revenue Service has found itself in the quarter horse business. Required by court orders to make use of the stock it seized, which included two of the most well-known stallions in quarter horse racing and one of the most well-known mares, the government has hired contractors to sell semen, breed mares and auction off horses.
On Friday, the feds unloaded the last of the stock they seized last summer when agents raided ranches and race tracks across the Southwest: the Zetas' five most-valuable horses and four foals in utero from dams that agents seized from the gang and bred with top sires.
An IRS agent testified this year that the government had already sold 480 horses for $9 million, making a profit of $6.5 million to $7 million.
“It was worthwhile to seize these horses, regardless of how much we were eventually able to get from the auction, because we were taking dirty money away from the Zetas,” IRS special agent and spokesman Mike Lemoine said after Friday's auction.
The racing and breeding operation that José Treviño Morales, brother of jailed Zetas leader Miguel Treviño Morales, used to launder $60 million in drug money had already made splashes in the quarter horse world.
From 2009 to 2012, José Treviño went from being a bricklayer in Dallas with one horse, Tempting Dash — which previously raced in Mexico under the name Huesos, or Bones — to a prominent horse racer and breeder with a large Oklahoma ranch and hundreds of animals.
A Zetas frontman set a record at a 2010 sale at Ruidoso Downs for spending more than $2 million. That same year, a frontman for the gang paid nearly $900,000 for a horse named Dashin Follies, the most money ever spent on a brood mare, at an auction at Heritage Place.
Dashin Follies sold for $250,000 Friday. A mare named Separate Fire sold for $460,000 and a filly named Do Not Tempt Me brought in $50,000.
The government rounded out the night by selling four foals in utero, bred from Separate Fire and Dashin Follies with two of the top sires in the country, for more than $550,000.
Cartel Horses Could Bring Big Bucks
By Jason Buch and Guillermo Contreras
Five quarter horses that were once the Zetas drug cartel's most prized animals will go up for auction Friday in Oklahoma City as the federal government sells off the last of the livestock it seized from the gang last year.
Among the two mares, two stallions and a 2-year-old filly, which federal agents seized along with nearly 500 other horses during raids of ranches and breeding and training facilities across the Southwest, is a pair of well-known race winners and a horse whose sale in 2010 set records.
The animals are probably most well-known, though, for their former owner, José Treviño Morales, a brother of Zetas leader Miguel Treviño Morales and a U.S. citizen who is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors say he rigged U.S. horse races as part of a sophisticated money laundering scheme.
Butch Wise, who manages the Lazy E Ranch in Oklahoma, said these horses are known for their victories, their pedigrees and their offspring and will sell at high prices despite the cloud surrounding their previous owner.
“They're certainly not your run-of-the-mill offerings in this or any sale. They would be the highlight of any sale individually, but collectively they really bring a lot of attention and a lot of buyers,” Wise said. “There certainly could, absolutely could, be a seven-figure horse there.”
The feds touted the case as a major victory against Miguel Treviño, identified in court documents as a man who personally killed thousands of people and ran what was at the time the largest drug-trafficking organization in Mexico. It was unusual, observers said, because the government is often reluctant to take on the responsibility of caring for hundreds of animals.
José Treviño is one of 10 people convicted of using the U.S. quarter-horse industry to launder tens of millions of dollars for the Zetas. In his trial this spring, prosecutors showed how in Treviño left Dallas, where he'd worked as a bricklayer, after a string of racing victories and moved to Oklahoma to launch a massive horse breeding operation.
Behind what prosecutors said appeared to be a perfectly legal, if not unusually fast-growing, quarter horse ranch was a complicated money laundering conspiracy using drug money to buy horses through straw purchasers, pay for the animals' upkeep and bribe racetrack officials in Texas and New Mexico.
The first horse the gang raced in the U.S. was Tempting Dash, one of the five up for sale
Friday. Originally known in Mexico as Huesos, Spanish for bones, Tempting Dash launched José Treviño's racing career in 2009, winning a $400,000 purse at the Dash for Cash Futurity in Grand Prairie and setting a speed record.
At trial, prosecutors played jurors wiretaps of Zetas members discussing fixing the race. They also showed a picture taken after the race of José Treviño's children using hand signs to flash the number 40, the radio call sign used by Miguel Treviño, who's now in jail in Mexico, and 42, the call sign used by his brother and right hand, Omar.
Witnesses at trial described how, after Tempting Dash contracted a blood disease, José Treviño spent significant time and money to find a way to safely breed the stallion. Today, the Southwest Stallion Station in Elgin has a contract with the federal government to sell the horse's semen for $5,000 a breeding.
Also on sale Friday will be Mr. Piloto, who overcame long shot 22-1 odds to win the 2010 All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, N.M., bringing in a $1 million purse, the richest in quarter horse racing.
Officials at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track have denied the race was fixed, and Wise said he doesn't think the allegations will affect the sale prices of Mr. Piloto and Tempting Dash.
“Those horses, they won those races,” he said. “Tempting Dash was so dominating.”
Also for sale are Dashin Follies, who set a record price for a brood mare when the Zetas bought her for $875,000 in 2010; Separate Fire, another of the Zetas' brood mares; and Do Not Tempt Me, a 2-year-old filly who is just reaching racing age.
The government is also auctioning off four surrogate mares that have been implanted with embryos from Dashin Follies and Separate Fire. The two mares were bred with Corona Cartel and Mr. Jess Perry, the top two living sires. Wise said the surrogates could sell for six figures.
Wise, who cared for some of José Treviño's horses and testified at his trial, said the Zetas money launderers knew a lot about bloodlines and purchased some of the best horses available.
“These guys they bought at the very top, they bought the best bloodlines,” he said. “They weren't buying at Walmarts, they were buying at Tiffany's.
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