News Column

Money Launderers Draw Maximum Sentences

Sep 6 2013 8:11AM

The leaders of a money laundering conspiracy that washed tens of millions of dollars for the violent Zetas drug cartel through a U.S. quarter horse operation were sentenced to 20 years in prison at a hearing here Thursday.

Federal Judge Sam Sparks sentenced Jose Trevino Morales, brother of jailed Zetas leader Miguel Trevino Morales, and Francisco Colorado Cessa, a businessman from Veracruz, to the maximum-allowable terms.

Trevino, Colorado and two other men were convicted this spring of laundering $60 million for the Zetas in Texas and other Southwestern states through a quarter horse operation. The trial included allegations of bribery, extortion, race fixing and killing. One witness Thursday estimated that the gang makes as much as $500 million a year in cocaine trafficking alone.

"The activities of Mexican drug cartels have taken a terrible toll within Mexico," United States Attorney Robert Pittman said after the sentencing. "This prosecution and the sentences imposed today should send a clear message to those who would attempt to import their brand of corruption and violence into the United States."

Agents testified that confidential informants told them a Zetas money courier was killed after Jose Trevino complained about him and that Colorado Cessa used his company's boats and airplanes to transport drugs from Panama to Mexico.

Defense attorneys objected to agents testifying about statements made by unnamed informants, including a well-known informant for the Mexican government named Pitufo, or "The Smurf," whose testimony in high-level corruption cases has been largely discredited.

"The court is certainly aware and doesn't give much credibility to these unidentifiable people," Sparks responded.

That didn't stop him from levying the maximum sentence against Jose Trevino, a 46-year-old father of four who coaches soccer. Trevino, who lived in the Dallas area and worked as a bricklayer before opening a large quarter horse ranch in Oklahoma, spoke in his own defense, trying to distance himself from Miguel and another brother, Omar, who has taken over the Zetas.

"It was proved at trial that I was not a Zeta," he told Sparks. "It was proved at trial that I never had any aggressive behavior toward anybody."

That's true, Sparks said, but Trevino still took drug money for his horses, money that Assistant District Attorney Douglas Gardner described as "covered in blood."

"You did have the opportunity to say 'No,'" Sparks said before sentencing Trevino. "You just didn't, and you ended up involving your own family."

Trevino's wife and daughter will be sentenced Friday.

Colorado Cessa, 52, a philanthropist in his hometown of Tuxpan and father of three, argued that although the evidence showed he'd bought horses for the Zetas, it also showed he'd paid with money his company made through its contracts with Mexico's state-run oil companies. Prosecutors countered that testimony showed the Zetas had given him tens of millions in loans and bribes and controlled 80 percent of his company.

"The money would come from the Zetas," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Fernald said. "The money would be funneled through various politicians, then the contracts would be ... given to Colorado Cessa. Without the Zetas, he would not have been able to function."

Colorado Cessa said he had no choice but to cooperate with the gang.

"What would you do if you find yourself purchasing something and someone calls you and asks you, 'Do me a favor of buying this or your family will die like this, and this and this'?" he asked Sparks.

Fernando Solis Garcia, a 30-year-old horse expert who worked for the organization, was sentenced to slightly more than 13 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy. Seven people, including two who had been scheduled for sentencing Thursday, will be sentenced here Friday.

jbuch@express-news.net

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Source: Copyright San_Antonio_Expr 2013


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