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NYT: Feds bust U.S. horse racing operation allegedly bankrolled by drug cartel figure

In one of the most audacious money-laundering schemes of all time, a senior member of Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel used several associates and relatives to purchase a 300-acre ranch in Oklahoma and build a successful quarter horse racing and breeding operation, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

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The newspaper, citing current and former federal law enforcement officials, said Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the world,, bankrolled the prominent horse breeding operation, Tremor Enterprises, and used it to launder millions of dollars in drug money.

The group won three of quarter horse racing’s biggest races, including the 2010 All American Futurity at Riudoso Downs in New Mexico with longshot Mr. Piloto, it said.

Others involved in the plot were José Treviño Morales, 45, older brother of Miguel Treviño Morales, who is alleged to be No. 2 in the feared Zetas drug cartel, and Ramiro Villarreal, who helped select Tremor’s racing prospects, including Mr. Piloto, the Times reported.

The scheme unraveled early Tuesday, according to the Times:

The Justice Department moved against Tremor on Tuesday morning, dispatching several helicopters and hundreds of law enforcement agents to the company’s stables in Ruidoso and its ranch in Oklahoma. Jose Treviño and several associates were taken into custody and were expected to be charged later in the day, authorities said.

An affidavit prepared before the raids said the Zetas funneled about $1 million a month into buying quarter horses in the United States. The authorities were tipped off to Tremor’s activities in January 2010, when the Zetas paid more than $1 million in a single day for two broodmares, the affidavit said.

The New York Times became aware of Tremor’s activities in December 2011 while reporting on the Zetas. The Times learned of the government’s investigation last month and agreed to hold this story until Tuesday morning’s arrests.

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