AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A man accused in an alleged scheme to buy and train racehorses to benefit the Zetas drug cartel was ordered detained Tuesday in Texas after a judge suggested he might flee to Mexico if released.
Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two alleged cartel leaders, is among 15 people charged in what federal prosecutors said was a money-laundering scheme centered on an Oklahoma horse ranch. Authorities said Trevino was involved in an operation that quietly arranged to spend millions of dollars of drug money on racehorses.
But Trevino's supporters argued that he was the innocent brother of two men — Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales — reputedly near the top of the notorious Zetas cartel based in Mexico.
Jose Trevino pleaded not guilty at a Tuesday detention hearing in Austin. The Austin American-Statesman reported that his attorney, David Finn, argued that his client wasn't a risk to flee or commit a crime. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane agreed that there was no evidence to suggest Trevino was a risk to the community, but he thought Trevino might flee to Mexico if he was let out of jail.
"We're disappointed with the magistrate's decision," Finn told The Associated Press after the hearing. "The government agreed that he is not a danger to the community or to society."
A spokesman for prosecutors did not return a phone message from the AP late Tuesday.
An Internal Revenue Service investigator who testified Tuesday said a federal informant — a drug distributor working for the Zetas — met Trevino several times when he secretly crossed the border for meetings with his brothers.
An indictment unsealed last month describes how the Trevino brothers and a network quietly arranged to purchase quarter horses with drug money at auction and disguise the source of the funds used to buy them so that the Zetas' involvement would be masked. They would often pay in cash, or use fake names, which helped keep the owners and the money a secret, authorities alleged.
The operation, Tremor Enterprises LLC, started small but worked in plain sight, with some horses carrying names with drug references, such as Number One Cartel. The horses and the operation eventually earned a place on some of the most elite stages in the industry. One horse named Mr. Piloto won a $1 million prize at Ruidoso Downs in 2010.
Three stable workers at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino told The Associated Press last month that Trevino's stables were known as the "Zetas' stables," and two of the workers described seeing people from Mexico show up at the stables with duffel bags of cash to purchase horses. The AP agreed to let the workers, who refused to give their names, speak anonymously because they feared retaliation from the Zetas cartel.
Neighbors of Jose Trevino's ranch, Zule Farms, questioned how he and his wife could afford to pay cash for top-notch horses.
Trevino's two brothers listed in the indictment are believed to be near the top of one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug cartels. The elder Trevino, Miguel Angel, is known for his brutality and is one of the U.S. and Mexican governments' most wanted men.