The Zetas: Coming to a racetrack near you

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are already operating in an estimated 1,000 US cities, but according to a recent investigation by The New York Times, they are on the racetracks too.

Mike Curran/The El Paso Times/AP
Unidentified law enforcement personnel take a horse away from the stable area at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino in Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday morning, June 12. An indictment unsealed Tuesday accused Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, a key figure in the Zetas drug operation, of setting up a horse operation that a younger brother operated from a ranch near Lexington, Okla., south of Oklahoma City.

Forget “spillover” violence. It appears that residents living in US towns along the border with Mexico are not the only Americans likely to come into contact with Mexico's drug traffickers.

There is already ample evidence of how Mexican traffickers have infiltrated American cities. The Department of Justice says Mexican drug trafficking organizations were operating in more than 1,000 of them as of 2010.

And now, according to an investigative piece by The New York Times, they are on the nation's racetracks too. Ginger Thompson of the Times writes about the Treviño family, which is accused of establishing a notable horse breeding operation in the US called Tremor Enterprises, through which they have allegedly laundered millions of dollars.

And the man behind the operation? Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, a key figure in the Zetas drug gang, the most ruthless of the ruthless trafficking organizations in Mexico. Ms. Thompson describes him as such: “Thin with a furrowed brow, he has become the organization’s lead enforcer – infamous for dismembering his victims while they are still alive.”

The face of the breeding and racing operation was Mr. Treviño's US-based brother, Jose, though Treviño is believed to be behind the funding of the operation.

According to US officials, Treviño used cash from drug profits to help establish the operation, including a ranch in Oklahoma with 300 stallions and mares, often paid for in cash. Tremor obviously had a knack for the work: Its horses won three of the biggest industry races in the past three years.

Yesterday federal agents raided the ranch and stables in Oklahoma, charging 15 people with money laundering. Miguel Treviño is still at large, believed to be in Mexico.

"This case is a prime example of the ability of Mexican drug cartels to establish footholds in legitimate US industries and highlights the serious threat money laundering causes to our financial system," Richard Weber, chief of the Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigation unit, told Associated Press.

The Zetas are one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and widely considered its most brutal. They are accused of being the masterminds behind Mexico's most gruesome violence in recent years, including arson at a casino in Monterrey in the middle of the day and the massacre of 72 migrants heading to the US.

The case is also a prime example of the convergence of two cultures, steeped in custom and mythology. Thompson's piece is worth a read. She begins:

Newcomers rarely make it into the winner’s circle at the All American Futurity, considered the Kentucky Derby of quarter horse racing.

Leading the revelry at the track was Mr. Piloto’s owner, José Treviño Morales, 45, a self-described brick mason who had grown up poor in Mexico. Across the border, Ramiro Villarreal, an affable associate who had helped acquire the winning colt, celebrated at a bar with friends.

As for the man who made the whole day possible, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, he was living on the run, one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the world.

The circles of American horse breeding seem an unlikely conduit for drug trafficking funds. But that may have been why it was chosen – that and the love that the Treviños allegedly had for the trade. Questions had already started to emerge, especially over the origins of Jose's money. One of his horses was named Number One Cartel. The AP notes that workers in New Mexico stables called them the "Zetas stables." But in the struggling industry, few were asking questions. Today, however, many might be wondering: What industry is next?

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