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Feds Say Mexican Cartel Used American Quarter Horse Racing To Launder Money

Federal authorities arrested seven people, today, in connection with what authorities say was a multi-million dollar money laundering operation run by Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas.

The scheme allegedly used the millions earned through the illicit drug trade to purchase, train, breed and race American quarter horses in the United States. The Department of Justice said 14 had been indicted; among them is Zetas leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales and his brothers Oscar Omar Treviño Morales and José Treviño-Morales.

Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales is considered one of the most ruthless cartel leaders.

"The allegations in this indictment, if proven, would document yet another example of the corrupting influence of Mexican drug cartels within the United States, facilitated by the enormous profits generated by the illicit drug trade," United States Attorney Robert Pitman said in a statement.

The New York Times, which broke the story earlier this afternoon, has been reporting about the ring since last year. Today, they published a stunning and lengthy account of a family that wasn't just trying to launder money, but one who really loved quarter horse racing. They pumped enough money into the business to make it vibrant.

The Times reports:

"Law enforcement officials said quarter horse racing was one of Miguel Ángel Treviño's favorite pastimes, and even while living on the run, he has managed to keep control of several ranches and racetracks in Mexico and Guatemala where he holds match races, known as parejeras.

"But Mexican horse racing — like so much else in that country — has been battered by the violence of the drug war. Many Mexican breeders have moved their operations to the United States, where they could buy horses with better bloodlines and compete for bigger prizes, without fearing for their lives.

"'Much of the growth in American quarter horse racing is due to those guys," said one industry expert, referring to the influx of breeders and buyers from Mexico. 'They have spent a lot of money. And it's made a big, big difference.'"

And just how engrained were they in the industry? Justice said that the indictment also sought the forfeiture of a number of horses including Mr. Piloto, the $1 million All American Futurity winner at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day 2010.

If this story piques your interest, click over the Times piece. They report about one week in May, when Miguel Ángel Treviño was accused by the Mexican government of dumping the dismembered bodies of 49 people along a highway in northern Mexico.

"The week concluded with [his brother] José Treviño fielding four Tremor horses in a prestigious race at Los Alamitos Race Course, near Los Angeles," the Times reports.

The 14 defendants are charged with one count each of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. They could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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