In a worrisome display of a drug cartel’s ability to hide illicit funds in the United States, Mexico’s Zetas laundered millions of dollars in drug profits through a high-profile horse breeding business across the border.
According to a New York Times investigation, the drug gang began using a horse breeding program in the US as a front company for drug trafficking in 2009. Jose Treviño Morales, an older brother of Zeta lieutenant Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40,” allegedly used drug profits to buy and breed horses for the quarter horse racing circuit.
The federal indictment in the case claims that businessmen in Mexico would purchase horses using their own bank accounts, and were later compensated under the table with drug money. Ownership of the horses was then transferred to Jose Treviño’s company.
The Times claims its staff first learned of the scheme in December 2011 while investigating the Zetas, but agreed to refrain from reporting on it until after US law enforcement agents raided Treviño’s ranch on June 12, arresting him and six others.
InSight Crime Analysis
The case provides a worrisome reminder that Mexican drug cartels’ operations do not simply end at the US border. In addition to overseeing major smuggling routes, drug trafficking organizations routinely launder their profits in US border states. Of these, law enforcement officials have identified Arizona as the primary “consolidation point” for drug proceeds.
More amazing than the fact that the Zetas ran such an extensive operation across the border, however, is the blatant manner in which it did so. In a surprising move for an associate of a criminal organization known for its cold efficiency, Jose Treviño worked to become a successful and well-known figure in the world of horse trading and breeding. His horses won three of the industry’s biggest races over the past three years. Treviño made no effort to hide his wealth and had no qualms about speaking with reporters. One horse was even named “Number One Cartel.”