AUSTIN, Texas — Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they will present 30,000 pages of documents and transcripts from 2,000 recorded phone conversations as part of a sweeping case alleging the buying and training of American racehorses to launder drug profits for Mexico's feared Zetas cartel.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks scheduled an Oct. 22 trial in Austin for the seven men and one woman arrested in the alleged scheme. He also suggested not all the defendants "would be here by then," indicating some may reach separate plea agreements with prosecutors, or move to otherwise have their cases tried separately.
Fifteen people have been charged in what federal prosecutors said was a money-laundering operation centered at an Oklahoma horse ranch that quietly spent millions in drug profits on racehorses for the Mexico-based Zetas. Eight of the suspects have been arrested; the rest remain at large.
Prosecutors told Sparks the evidence includes 30,000 pages of records on horses, as well as banking and auction documents. They said they also have recordings of 2,000 phone calls obtained with the consent of at least one of the parties involved, not with wiretaps.
They also said investigators seized about 200 boxes of evidence from seven locations searched during sweeping raids in June that triggered the arrests.
Among those in custody is Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two alleged cartel leaders. Trevino's attorney, David Finn, has suggested authorities are trying to "tar and feather" his client because of the alleged actions of his brothers. Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales both are reputed top Zetas leaders.
An Internal Revenue Service investigator has said a drug distributor working for the Zetas, who also is a federal informant, met Jose Trevino Morales 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. The operation, Tremor Enterprises LLC, started small but worked in plain sight – with some horses carrying names such as Number One Cartel.
Finn argued Wednesday that his client should be released on bond because he wouldn't dare flee to Mexican territory.
"Given the publicity in this case, the last place on the planet he would go is Mexico," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Gardner argued Trevino and his brothers are accused of moving up to $25 million a month in drug profits between the U.S. and Mexico.
"It makes him a major flight risk to join his brothers in Mexico," Gardner said.
Sparks upheld a magistrate's previous order that Trevino remain in federal custody, citing his "brothers' immeasurable ability to live independently outside the United States."