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Government forced to take abandoned cartel horses

Associated Press Modified: June 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm •  Published: June 15, 2012

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Federal agents were forced to seize a dozen horses in New Mexico that are part of a racing operation allegedly laundering money for one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, after their trainers refused to continue caring for them, prosecutors said in court documents filed Friday.

Prosecutors had hoped a previous protective order would force companies used to front the alleged operation to pay for the continued care of more than 400 horses. But the government has had to take custody of 12 abandoned this week.

The seizure notice came the same day an FBI agent testified in Austin that a Texas horse trainer accused of helping the ruthless Zetas drug cartel launder money would be in danger if released on bail. Eusevio Maldonado Huitron, 48, was arrested earlier this week as part of a money laundering indictment that named two high-ranking Zeta brothers among others.

Authorities estimated it would have cost Jose Trevino Morales, a third brother charged with running the U.S. horse operation, $200,000 a month to care for the hundreds of horses involved. In the indictment unsealed Tuesday in Austin, prosecutors allege millions of dollars in drug profits were funneled through the group's quarter horse activities in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.

The government had tried to stay out of the horse business. But that's hard to do when more than 400 quarter horses make up a good chunk of the assets prosecutors want forfeited. It also could be months or even years before the forfeitures can be resolved.

Anticipating this, prosecutors got a protective order earlier this month requiring that the horses continue to be fed and housed by their current caretakers. It was unclear if the front companies listed as the horses' owners were expected to continue using money the government alleges is drug profits and the U.S. Attorney's office did not immediately return phone messages Friday.

Among the 12 horses seized Thursday at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico were Break Out the Bullets and Eye on Corona. It wasn't immediately clear where those horses were taken.

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