Opening statements will begin Tuesday in a money laundering trial that
will delve into the inner workings of the deadly Mexican Zetas cartel, accused
of channelling millions of dirty dollars through the U.S. horse industry.
Nearly 20 people are implicated in a scheme that authorities say involved two top leaders of the organization. But the leaders remain on the loose, and the case will instead center on their brother, Jose Trevino Morales, a brick layer and father of four who owned one of the most prominent companies in horse racing.
The trial is expected to run at least three weeks and will include testimony from jockeys, horse industry magazine editors, law enforcement officials and agents of the Internal Revenue Service.
Also on trial will be Mexican businessman Francisco Colorado Cessa; professional horse trainers Fernando Solis Garcia and Eusevio Maldonado Huitron, who lives in East Austin and owns property in Bastrop County; and Huitron's son, Jesus "Jesse" Huitron.
Over the past decade, the Zetas have risen from a volatile enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel to a transnational enterprise with tentacles stretching from Latin America into Texas and the United States. Two of the Zetas leaders, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and Omar Trevino Morales, were the targets of the investigation.
In a search warrant, law enforcement officials say they used bank records, American Quarter Horse Association filings, statements from concerned citizens and witness interviews to trace the origins of the dirty money.
Court records show the defendants founded Tremor Enterprises in the United States to buy, train and breed quarter horses from a champion lineage, which they raced, winning some of the sport's biggest races -- all using millions of dollars in drug proceeds.
Jose Trevino, and his wife, Zulema Trevino, operated the gang's quarter horse activities through various front companies in the United States, many based in Lexington, Okla., records said.
Law enforcement officials said the operation was funded by a network that would move narcotics from Colombia and Venezuela via boats, cars and planes to the northern Mexican border, where Zetas bosses, in marked territories known as "plazas," directed the shipments as far north as Chicago.
The profits were transported back south in bulks of cash to Mexico, authorities said. An informant told law enforcement officials that the majority of the money was then transferred to Casas de Cambio.
Three defendants have pleaded guilty, including Jose Trevino's wife and daughter. Zulema Trevino pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder a monetary instrument, and Garcia Trevino entered a guilty plea to one count of failing to report a felony, according to plea agreements filed Friday in a U.S. district court in Austin. They were initially facing up to 20 years and three years in prison, respectively, but are now likely to receive probation, their attorneys said.
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