Zetas’ Cavalry Auctioned Off in Oklahoma

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Over 300 quarter horses linked to the Zetas will be sold during a three-day auction in Oklahoma City, another step in the dismantling of the Mexican group’s money laundering network, which used the equine industry to launder millions of dollars of drug money. 

On day one of the auction November 1, the first dozen horses sold for $434,000, according to the AP. The proceeds will go the US government, but are unlikely to be released until the resolution of the civil trial against 14 alleged Zeta money launderers in Austin, Texas. The trial is set to begin in March.

A federal indictment filed in June accuses the suspects — including Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño, alias “Z-40,” and two of his brothers (one of whom was arrested in Texas) — of using a quarter horse breeding scheme to launder up to $1 million in drug money each month.

It is unusual to sell the assets seized during a criminal prosecution before the trial is resolved. But in this case, the government had to take custody of several of the horses and pay for their upkeep. A June AP report estimated that the Treviños were spending $200,000 a month to care for the hundreds of horses. 

According to the San Antonio Express news, five of the most valuable horses seized will not yet be sold because the defendants have not yet agreed to their sale, including one horse with an estimated worth of $875,000.

InSight Crime Analysis

The ability of the Treviños to run such an extensive money laundering operation within the US is partly a testament to how poorly regulated the horse breeding and racing circuit is. As the New York Times reported at the time, the Treviño brothers were essentially hiding in plain sight. 

The dismantling of the horse-breeding scheme arguably had widespread repercussions on the Zetas. The law enforcement operation coincided with growing rumors that the Zetas had split into rival factions due to mistrust between Treviño and other Zetas commanders, a split that was possibly exacerbated by the arrest of Treviño’s brother. An unnamed military source told Proceso that other Zetas commanders were angered that Treviño spent so much of the group’s money on buying ranches and horses, further deepening the rift. 

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