US Horse Farm Was Front for Vicious Cartel

Horse names pointed to Los Zetas' involvement

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 14, 2014 5:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Los Zetas drug cartel is known for beheadings and cutting off limbs while victims are still alive—and until authorities got involved, it was hiding millions of dollars behind an Oklahoma horse farm, NBC News reports. The farm was owned by Jose Trevino Morales, the little brother of two cartel leaders in Mexico. He seemed to be remarkably good at his job: Shortly after getting involved with horse racing, he was winning millions and spending vast amounts at auction. It may have helped that the cartel was fixing the races. "They were actually extorting gate openers," says FBI agent Scott Lawson.

Cartel leaders organized horse racing shell companies to hide drug money; some $16 million passed through the biggest one. They believed a horse farm "was a great place to run this scheme and stay under the radar from US law enforcement," says Lawson. But an informant alerted the FBI to questionable goings-on, and Morales made a rather glaring mistake: He named horses after the cartel (examples: "Number One Cartel," "My Brother's Secret"). In victory photos, Morales and other cartel members showed off cartel hand signs. Morales was arrested and $28 million seized in 2012; nineteen people have now been indicted and 10 convicted in the case, NBC News notes.

In this June 12, 2012 file photo, FBI agents overlook a horse ranch under investigation in Lexington, Okla.
In this June 12, 2012 file photo, FBI agents overlook a horse ranch under investigation in Lexington, Okla.   (AP Photo/Brett Deering, File)
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