A Remington Park racetrack official says horse owners are subjected to “vigorous” background checks before being issued a license in Oklahoma.
It appears Jose Trevino Morales, whose brother is a leader of an infamous drug cartel in Mexico, slipped through the cracks.
Jose Trevino, his wife and 13 others were indicted May 30 by a federal grand jury in Texas, although court documents weren't unsealed until Tuesday. He is accused of using a quarter horse breeding and racing operation to launder $20 million in drug money, starting in 2008.
A ranch in Lexington, called Zule Farms, had become the center of the breeding and racing operation, court records show.
Four other men who were indicted last month along with Jose Trevino also are licensed by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.
Two of the men are described as owners, one as a registered agent and one as a trainer. Except for one, all had been licensed in other states, including Texas, Louisiana, California and New Mexico.
Lisa Hanson, the racing commission's license supervisor, said all applicants are required to fill out paperwork that asks for a Social Security number, date of birth and other pertinent information. She said fingerprints, which are sent to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI to check for criminal history, are also taken from those seeking a license.
“We don't fingerprint minors, or if they're disabled or anything, but we do fingerprints,” Hanson said, adding that she wasn't sure what the law enforcement agencies do with the documents and other items once they receive them.
Court records describe Jose Trevino as the older brother of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, second-in-command of Los Zetas, an organization well-known for heinous, murderous acts in Mexico's borderland wars. The four men with state-issued licenses face the same serious charges as Jose Trevino and are linked to the same drug trafficking organization.
Scott Wells, general manager of Remington Park, said Oklahoma racetracks rely on the racing commission to vet owners, jockeys and trainers.
“Remington Park functions as a host facility and by law all racing participants including owners, trainers and jockeys must undergo vigorous background checks and be licensed by Oklahoma and Texas racing commissions to race at our facility,” Wells said. “This is a matter for state and federal officials and we have and will continue to cooperate in any way we can.”
Kym Koch Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Chickasaw Nation, said no horses owned by the Trevino family were seized at racetracks owned by the tribe, including Remington Park and Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.
“Not that I'm aware of,” she said. “But our quarter horse racing season ended Memorial Day.”
Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in San Antonio, said Jose Trevino and his wife, Zulema, remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshal's Service. He said they're expected to be taken to Texas for detention hearing, “but I don't expect anything to happen for some time.”
The couple's Lexington ranch was raided Tuesday. Agents raided a racetrack in New Mexico on the same day and made five additional arrests in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; and Ruidoso, N.M.
Jose Trevino's brothers, including Miguel Trevino and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, were not arrested and are believed to be in Mexico. Oscar Trevino is described as a cartel leader, as well.
Sources near the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino said the cartel's link to Jose Trevino's horse racing operation was an open secret.
Stable workers, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said Jose Trevino's stables were called the “Zetas' stables,” and that they had seen Mexican citizens show up in New Mexico with duffel bags full of cash to buy horses.
In plain sight
The Trevino family has been living for years in the U.S., essentially hiding in plain sight. The family lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before buying the farm in Lexington.
The Trevinos' daughter, Alexandra, was married recently at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. A hotel employee said the facility is among the swankiest in the city.
“I don't know how much a wedding costs, but it's not cheap,” the employee said.
The Trevino family forged relationships with industry professionals, including one of the most successful trainers in the business, Paul Jones.
Nancy Yearsley, president of a Kentucky-based company that insures race horses, attended Alexandra Trevino's wedding, according to her company's Facebook page.
“Nancy Yearsley was one of the guests at Alexandra and Luis Garcia's wedding which was held at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas last Saturday,” a June 5 post read. “Alexandra is the daughter of Jose and Zulema Trevino, owners of Zule Farms in Lexington, Oklahoma.”
Media reports also suggest the wedding was covered by Track Magazine, which follows the horse racing industry.
Paul Jones, who is a highly successful quarter horse trainer, often worked for Jose Trevino. The two are featured in photographs together on racing websites, usually with large trophies in hand.
Neighbors in Lexington described Jose Trevino and his ranch employees as good people, but many were suspicious because of the size of the ranch and the scope of its operations.
Authorities said the upkeep, just for the 425 horses, would be roughly $200,000 per month.
Clifford Massengale, a neighbor and retired military officer, said he noticed the extravagance.
“It would take a multimillionaire just to support an operation like that,” Massengale said. “The first thing I noticed was they were too obvious in their attempt to let people know they were in the horse business, but they were the best neighbors we've ever had on that property.”
Neighbors also said the 160-acre ranch was always manicured and often lit up at night with flood lights.
Staff Writer Nolan Clay and The Associated Press