Just three years ago, Jose Trevino Morales was working as a bricklayer in Texas, and his wife, Zulema Flores Trevino, was an office clerk for a staffing company.
They lived in Balch Springs, Texas, outside Dallas. They raised four children and made less than $60,000 total in 2009 from those jobs. They often only had about $2,000 in their bank account.
In late 2009, that all changed.
That fall, Jose Trevino started up a racehorse operation. It was funded — the FBI says — by millions of dollars from the powerful and violent Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel run by his two younger brothers.
The FBI claims the two brothers, over the last two years, have funneled $1 million a month into the United States to purchase race horses.
Last year, Jose Trevino and his wife moved their operation to a sprawling quarter-horse ranch near Lexington, south of Oklahoma City. He named the ranch Zule Farms, after his wife. There they made improvements and cared for about 400 horses.
They were arrested at that ranch Tuesday after they and 13 others were indicted by a federal grand jury in Austin. The 15 defendants are accused in the indictment of a money-laundering conspiracy involving $20 million.
Jose Trevino, 45, and Zulema Trevino, 38, remain in federal custody. Federal authorities made six other arrests last week, in California, Texas and New Mexico.
Those indicted include Trevino's brothers. Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, also known as “40,” was identified as one of the top two leaders of the Zetas. Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, also known as “42,” was identified as also having a leadership role in the cartel.
Neither has been arrested. Both are believed to be in Mexico.
An FBI special agent reported last week in a request for a search warrant that “‘40' and ‘42' provided the resources and funds to establish their brother, Jose Trevino, as the frontman for their quarter-horse business in the United States.”
“To facilitate this money-laundering operation, Jose Trevino established Tremor Enterprises LLC, 66 Land LLC and Zule Farms LLC as some of the front businesses,” the FBI agent reported.
Bought by force
The agent reported the Trevino brothers used extortion to get people to sell them horses. The agent reported witnesses said “the threat of death by members of Los Zetas ... intimidates and coerces individuals to transfer horses to Jose Trevino or one of his companies for a price substantially less than the true value of the horses.”
The FBI agent reported one informant said Omar Trevino once stated that “with his own weapon, he had killed over 1,000 people and ‘40' had killed over 2,000 people.”