Shannon Richardson Charged By the Feds With Allegedly Mailing Ricin Letters

June 10, 2013

Huffington Post on June 8, 2013 released the following:


Shannon Richardson Tried To Frame Husband Nathaniel Richardson For Ricin Letters: FBI

TEXARKANA, Texas — Shannon Richardson had been married to her husband less than two years when she went to authorities and told them her suspicions: He was the one who had mailed ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatening violence against gun-control advocates.

When investigators looked closer, they reached a different conclusion: It was the 35-year-old pregnant actress who had sent the letters, and she tried to frame her estranged husband in a bizarre case of marital conflict crossing with bioterrorism.

Those allegations are detailed in court documents filed Friday as Richardson was arrested and charged with mailing a threatening communication to the president. The federal charge carries up to 10 years in prison, U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said.

Richardson, a mother of five who has played bit roles on television and in movies, is accused of mailing the ricin-laced letters to the White House, to Bloomberg and to the mayor’s Washington gun-control group last month.

Richardson’s court-appointed attorney, Tonda Curry, said there was no intention to harm anyone and noted that it’s common knowledge that mail is checked before it reaches the person to whom these letters were addressed.

“From what I can say, based on what evidence I’ve seen, whoever did this crime never intended for ricin to reach the people to which the letters were addressed,” Curry said.

According to an FBI affidavit, Richardson contacted authorities on May 30 and implicated her husband, Nathaniel Richardson. She described finding small, brown beans with white speckles – a description matching the key ingredient in ricin, castor beans – at the couple’s home in New Boston, Texas. She also told investigators that she had found a sticky note on her husband’s desk with addresses for Bloomberg and Obama, the affidavit said.

But she later failed a polygraph test, the document said, and investigators looking into her story found numerous inconsistencies. Among them: Nathaniel Richardson would have been at work when Internet searches tied to the letters were made on the couple’s laptop and when the envelopes containing the letters were postmarked.

Finally, the affidavit says, in an interview with authorities on Thursday, Shannon Richardson admitted that she had received syringes and lye – a caustic chemical used in making ricin – in the mail; that she had printed the labels for the letters; and that she mailed them. However, she insisted her husband typed them and “made her” print and send them, the affidavit says.

No charges have been filed against her husband. His attorney, John Delk, told The Associated Press on Friday that his client was pleased with his wife’s arrest and was working with authorities to prove his innocence.

Delk previously told the AP that the couple is going through a divorce and that the 33-year-old Army veteran may have been “set up” by his wife. In divorce papers filed Thursday, Nathanial Richardson said the marriage had become “insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities.”

FBI agents wearing hazardous material suits were seen going in and out of the Richardsons’ house on Wednesday in nearby New Boston, about 150 miles northeast of Dallas near the Arkansas and Oklahoma borders. Authorities conducted a similar search on May 31.

The house is now under quarantine for “environmental or toxic agents,” according to a posting at the residence. Multiple samples taken from the couples’ home tested positive for ricin, according to the affidavit. Federal agents also found castor beans along with syringes and other items that could be used to extract the lethal poison, the affidavit says.

Bloomberg issued a statement Friday thanking local and federal law enforcement agencies “for their outstanding work in apprehending a suspect,” saying they worked collaboratively from the outset “and will continue to do so as the investigation continues.”

Shannon Richardson appears in movies and on TV under the name Shannon Guess. Her resume on the Internet movie database IMDb said she has had small television roles in “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Walking Dead.” She had a minor role in the movie “The Blind Side” and appeared in an Avis commercial, according to the resume.

Delk said the Richardsons were expecting their first child in October. Shannon Richardson also has five children ranging in age from 4 to 19 from other relationships, four of whom had been living with the couple in the New Boston home, the attorney said.

Nathaniel Richardson works as a mechanic at the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, Texas, a facility that repairs tanks, Humvees and other mobile military equipment. He and Shannon were married in October 2011.

A detention hearing for Shannon Richardson is scheduled for next Friday, court records show, and the government is requesting that she be held without bond.

The FBI is investigating at least three cases over the past two months in which ricin was mailed to Obama and other public figures. Ricin has been sent to officials sporadically over the years, but experts say that there seems to be a recent uptick and that copycat attacks – made possible by the relative ease of extracting the poison – may be the reason.

If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. If swallowed, it can shut down the liver and other organs, resulting in death. The amount of ricin that can fit on the head of a pin is said to be enough to kill an adult if properly prepared. No antidote is available, though researchers are trying to develop one.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

“Federal Judge: Only Powered-Off Cell Phones Deserve Privacy Protections”

May 15, 2013

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on May 15, 2013 released the following:

“By Chris Soghoian, Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 11:27am

A federal magistrate judge in New York recently ruled that cell phone location data deserves no protection under the Fourth Amendment and that accordingly, the government can engage in real-time location surveillance without a search warrant. In an opinion straight from the Twilight Zone, magistrate judge Gary Brown ruled two weeks ago that “cell phone users who fail to turn off their cell phones do not exhibit an expectation of privacy.”

The case in question involved a physician who the DEA believed had issued thousands of prescriptions for pain killers in exchange for cash. In March of this year, the DEA had obtained a warrant for his arrest, and, not knowing where he was, sought an order from magistrate judge Brown forcing the phone company to provide real-time data identifying the location of the physician’s phone.

Although the DEA agents requested a search warrant and the judge found that there was probable cause to believe that the cell phone location data would assist in the location and apprehension of an individual for whom there was already a valid arrest warrant, the judge later published a 30-page opinion further stating that he didn’t think the government needed to seek a search warrant in the first place.

Don’t Want the Government Tracking You? Turn Your Phone Off

In his puzzling opinion, the judge squarely criticizes people naive enough to expect privacy while also leaving their cell phones on when they’re not using them.

    “Given the ubiquity and celebrity of geolocation technologies, an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in the prospective location of a cellular telephone where that individual has failed to protect his privacy by taking the simple expedient of powering it off.

    As to control by the user, all of the known tracking technologies may be defeated by merely turning off the phone. Indeed—excluding apathy or inattention—the only reason that users leave cell phones turned on is so that the device can be located to receive calls. Conversely, individuals who do not want to be disturbed by unwanted telephone calls at a particular time or place simply turn their phones off, knowing that they cannot be located.”

The Catch-22 here is that the only people who the judge believes would have any reasonable expectation of privacy are those whose phones are turned off (and thus, not generating any location data that the government could access, even with a warrant). And it ignores the necessity of keeping your cell phone turned on for communicating with family or for work.

That consumers are dumb enough to willingly share their location using the “Girls Around Me” app (which the judge specifically calls out by name, although the wrong one), only further justifies covert, warrantless government surveillance:

    “Given the notoriety surrounding the disclosure of geolocation data to retailers purveying soap powder and blue jeans to mall shoppers, the police searching for David Pogue’s iPhone and, most alarmingly, the creators and users of the Girls Around You app, cell phone users cannot realistically entertain the notion that such information would (or should) be withheld from federal law enforcement agents searching for a fugitive.”

This is, in a word, ridiculous. There is a big difference between location information you knowingly share with a select group of friends (or, in fact, the world) and information collected about you without your knowledge or consent. Someone might be happy to share their location with a few friends by “checking in” using Foursquare while at a music festival, but not want law enforcement to access that same information. And, they would still reasonably expect that their location a week later while at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or abortion clinic should remain private. Sharing location data isn’t and shouldn’t be all or nothing.

We are also baffled by the judge’s willingness to tie a reasonable expectation of privacy to the use of a cell phone power button. We’re not sure if the judge has watched the Onion’s spoof news video describing a fictional “Google Opt Out Village” for people who don’t want to be tracked by the advertising company, but the logic in his opinion is consistent with the absurdity of that spoof. If you don’t want Google to track you, stop using all modern technology and move to a remote village. If you don’t want the government to covertly track your phone, turn it off and leave it off. What could be simpler, right?”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

Two Chicago-Area Defendants Charged with Alleged Commodities Fraud in Separate Federal Criminal Cases

October 26, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on October 25, 2012 released the following:

“CHICAGO—Two defendants were charged with commodities fraud in unrelated cases, federal law enforcement officials announced today. In one case, an investment firm officer was charged with defrauding customers of approximately $2.5 million. In the other case, a former clerk for a lean hogs futures trader was arrested today and charged with manipulating trades to generate a profit of more than $225,000 for herself.

Joshua T. J. Russo, 30, of Chicago, a former vice president of alternative investments for Olympus Futures Inc. (previously Peak Trading Group), was charged with a single count of commodities fraud in a criminal information filed today. In a separate case, Nicole M. Graziano, 32, of Roselle, a former trading clerk, was charged with four counts of commodities fraud in an indictment returned yesterday by a federal grand jury.

Graziano was arrested this morning and later released on a $10,000 unsecured bond after pleading not guilty before U.S. District Judge James Zagel. Russo was not arrested and will be arraigned at later date in federal court.

The charges were announced by Gary S. Shapiro, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and William C. Monroe, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Each count of commodities fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, and restitution is mandatory. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The government is being represented in both cases by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher McFadden.

The investigation falls under the umbrella of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch and, with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit

An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The details of each case follow.

United States. V. Russo, 12 CR 836

Between March 2007 and April 2011, Russo fraudulently obtained approximately $2.5 million from at least six investors and caused losses of more than $1.3 million, including approximately $208,000 in commissions for himself that he spent on gambling, vacations, clothing, theater tickets, meals, and entertainment, the charges allege. Russo obtained the funds by misrepresenting to investors that their funds would be used to purchase various investments, including shares of the Peak Performance Fund, which he knew had never accepted individual investors, and no money was ever invested with the fund. Russo allegedly made false statements about his prior performance investing in commodity futures, the level of risk, the existence and trading performance of the Peak Performance Fund, and the uses of the funds he obtained from investors. He concealed the fraud by creating and distributing false e-mails, spreadsheets, statements, and audit reports, the charges allege.

Instead of investing the funds as he purported, Russo misappropriated the money to make speculative trades—and regularly lost money—in various commodity futures, including energy sources, precious metals, agriculture products, foreign currencies, and stock indices. After providing one investor with false information about positive returns, Russo successfully encouraged that investor to refer friends and relatives to open accounts through him, resulting in additional victims.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the National Futures Association assisted in the investigation.

United States. V. Graziano, 12 CR 834

Between September 2009 and August 2010, Graziano, who was a clerk for a floor trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, now CME Group, secretly inserted trade cards for her own personal orders into the decks of trade cards submitted by public customers that she provided to floor traders to execute during the opening and closing brackets of trading in lean hogs futures contracts, the charges allege. She then fraudulently allocated lower purchase prices to her buy orders, and higher prices to her sell orders, to the detriment of public customers, according to the indictment. Graziano allegedly submitted at least 104 fraudulent trade cards to the appropriate clearing firms, resulting in illegal profits to her of $13,390 during the opening bracket and $213,680 during the closing bracket.

The CME Group assisted in the investigation.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

U.S. Customs officer arrested on alleged federal bribery charges in scheme to avoid taxes on imports coming from China

October 26, 2012

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on October 25, 2012 released the following:

“LOS ANGELES – Federal authorities arrested a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervisory officer Thursday morning on charges of accepting bribes to allow others, including his ex-wife, to smuggle goods into the United States so they could avoid paying duties and taxes.

Sam Herbert Allen, 51, of Diamond Bar, was arrested after being indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, bribery and making false statements to investigating agents with the Department of Homeland Security.

The probe was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs.

According to the five-count indictment, Allen served as a supervisory officer assigned to oversee the examination and release of cargo entering the United States. After he was transferred to other duties within CBP, Allen convinced his ex-wife to operate an import business that would avoid paying duties on shipments coming from the People’s Republic of China. The import business – technically a “foreign trade zone” – would falsely claim that the shipments from China were not imported, but were instead immediately sent to Mexico. The indictment alleges that Allen promised to make the shipments appear to CBP as if they had been exported to Mexico, this in exchange for bribe payments of $2,000 per shipment.

During the course the scheme, which operated from at least September 2009 until March 2010, Allen allegedly received more than $100,000 in bribe payments. The indictment alleges that the scheme caused the United States to suffer a loss of at least $781,000 in unpaid customs duties and taxes.

“When public servants break the law, it leaves behind an indelible stain,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The indictment alleges that Officer Allen violated the public trust by using his position in a government agency to line his pockets and deprive the United States of legitimate taxes owed in the normal course of business. The criminal charges reflect our commitment to rooting out and punishing corrupt officials.”

The indictment goes on to allege that Allen encouraged his ex-wife to lie – and that Allen himself lied – to federal law enforcement personnel investigating and prosecuting this scheme. Allen is also charged with lying to investigators when he denied discussing a separate scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States from Mexico.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed crimes. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Allen is expected to be arraigned on the indictment Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

If he is convicted of the five counts in the indictment, Allen would face a statutory maximum penalty of 35 years in federal prison.

Allen’s ex-wife, Wei Lai, was charged with crimes related to her role in the smuggling scheme in July 2011. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to go to trial with another defendant Feb. 19, 2013.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

Two-Count Hate Crime Indictment Returned Against Indiana Man for Alleged Attack on Toledo-Area Mosque

October 19, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on October 18, 2012 released the following:

“A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging an Indiana man with hate crimes stemming from the arson of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, law enforcement officials announced today.

Randolph Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Indiana, was charged with (1) intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying religious real property because of the religious character of that property; and (2) using fire to commit a felony.

“The Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute persons who attack, deface, or damage houses of worship because of racial or religious animus,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We appreciate the cooperation of state, local, and federal law enforcement in their efforts to ensure that no one in this country is hindered in their ability to worship freely in the manner of their choosing.”

“As this department and this community have repeatedly said, we will have zero tolerance for such violent acts of intolerance,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Religious freedom is at the core of our country, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute such hate crimes whenever and wherever the evidence warrants. Local, state, and federal law enforcement are to be commended for the speed with which they identified and arrested the suspect.”

Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said, “This case has been a cooperative effort, with state and local law enforcement initiating the investigation and federal agents subsequently stepping in to assist. It is time to take the next step and seek federal prosecution with the active participation of the same state and local investigators. Additionally, an Assistant Prosecutor has been appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.”

Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland office, said, “Today’s charges should send a clear message to anyone who chooses to use fire and hate to destroy a place of worship. The FBI commends the collaboration between the local and federal agencies in their efforts to bring Randolph Linn swiftly to justice.”

“This senseless act of arson against a house of worship is incomprehensible and will not be tolerated, as ATF will actively pursue and bring those responsible to justice,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Robin Shoemaker, Columbus Field Division. “The individual(s) responsible for this act will be held accountable. ATF will continue to work in collaboration with our federal and local counterparts to ensure that justice is served.”

Count one charged Linn with intentionally damaging religious real property because of the religious character of that property.

In this case, Linn drove on September 30, 2012, from Indiana to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, Ohio, and, after unlawfully entering the center, used gasoline to set fire to the Islamic Center’s prayer room, according to the indictment.

Count two charged Linn with using fire to commit a felony.

The Perrysburg Township Fire Department was notified at about 4:58 p.m. on September 30 of a fire at the Islamic Center. Officials and officers discovered a red plastic gas can in the middle of the Islamic Center’s prayer room and the carpet underneath had been burned. The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler system and there was significant damage to the prayer room and other areas of the Islamic Center. Officials and officers determined the fire had been intentionally set, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.

Security cameras at the Islamic Center captured images of a red, SUV-type vehicle in the parking lot at approximately 4:11 p.m. They also captured images of an older man, dressed in blue jeans and camouflage, who approached the front door of the Islamic Center, according to the affidavit.

Security cameras also captured images of the man walking around the inside of the Islamic Center with what appeared to be a firearm and a gas can and then leaving the Islamic Center at approximately 4:54 p.m., according to the affidavit.

Law enforcement officials released still photos of the surveillance video to the media on October 1.

On October 2, a woman contacted law enforcement and identified the man in the photos as Randolph Linn. The woman stated that she knew Linn and that he had recently made anti-Muslim comments. Specifically, she stated that Linn had complained about the international Muslim community’s reaction to the anti-Muslim video on Youtube; recent attacks on United States’ embassies; and the deaths of U.S. military personnel in the Middle East. She further stated that Linn complained that Muslims in this country get a “free pass,” according to the affidavit.

The woman recognized the sweatshirt as one Linn owned and stated that the three months earlier, Linn had purchased a red, SUV-type vehicle that matched the vehicle in the surveillance footage at the Islamic Center, according to the affidavit.

Linn was arrested at his place of employment on October 2. Linn’s vehicle, a red Chevy Sonic, was in the parking lot, according to the affidavit.

Linn stated that he had three firearms in his parked vehicle, according to the affidavit.

While being booked and after being read his Miranda rights, Linn stated, “[expletive] those Muslims,” according to the affidavit.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bridget M. Brennan, Ava Dustin and Special Assistant Gwen Howe-Gebers.

This is an ongoing investigation and this case is being investigated by the Perrysburg Township Police Department; the State of Ohio Fire Marshal; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

Inside story: FBI nabs Alleged Ocean’s Eleven-style ring of thieves after biggest heist in U.S history

June 18, 2012 on June 17, 2012 released the following:

“By Ted Sherman/The Star-Ledger

The Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., is a nondescript beige building with a pebbled concrete exterior, just off Freshwater Boulevard.

Although just down the road from a suburban shopping mall and an Olive Garden restaurant, it feels like the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and little else.

A light rain was falling on Saturday, March 13, 2010, when a tractor-trailer rumbled up to the loading dock about 9:33 p.m. Shut down for the weekend, the building had no security fence or watchman to keep an eye on the pallets of the costly pharmaceuticals awaiting shipment.

A video surveillance camera captured the fuzzy image of two men apparently checking to see if there was anyone inside the office. Then they quickly carried a ladder to get to the roof. Little more than tar and metal sheeting, it would not take much effort to cut through if nobody was watching.

And nobody was.

The Enfield warehouse was about to become legend — the scene of an $80 million commercial drug heist, the biggest in U.S. history.

This is the inside story of how it went down and how authorities tracked and arrested 22 alleged members of an Ocean’s Eleven-style ring of thieves, who operated with their own trucks, warehouses and black market wholesalers.

Criminal complaints filed in federal court in New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut and Illinois detail an operation that stole and then sold an eclectic litany of products: trailer-loads of pharmaceuticals exchanged for cash in the parking lot of a Toys “R” Us in North Bergen, hair care products taken in San Antonio and unloaded to a buyer in Newark, boxes of respiratory medicine loaded onto a flatbed tow truck at a Home Depot parking lot in Hollywood, Fla. They made off with millions in cancer drugs and antidepressants, and carried away loads of whiskey, inflatable boats and cigarettes.

It was an operation, say federal law enforcement sources, that was penetrated by an FBI cargo theft task force in New Jersey after a buy-and-bust sting involving a load of pharmaceuticals stolen in Georgia led investigators to Florida.

But the most revealing information comes by way of an FBI court affidavit, mistakenly unsealed, offering a rare insight into the workings of a network that operated like a big business with high-end, fast-moving theft crews — sometimes working independently, other times as teams.

The accused, say investigators, included two brothers — one an expert in alarm systems — each with a long history of taking stuff that did not belong to them. And both might still be free but for two mistakes that ultimately helped federal agents identify gang members and track them down — a discarded water bottle and a brand new set of tools.

“This wasn’t about a guy walking down the street with a black knit hat and a crowbar over his shoulder. It was nothing like that,” said Charles Forsaith, coordinator of the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition, an industry group that shares intelligence. “This was a group that had tentacles elsewhere.”


Amaury Villa is a stocky man with close-cropped hair, a tattoo of a scorpion on his left arm, and a long rap sheet for burglary.

“Unfortunately he has a substantial criminal background,” acknowledged his attorney, Frank Rubino of Miami.

Living in Miami with a girlfriend, and having to make monthly child support payments, Villa had recently incorporated a transportation company, Florida records showed. E-mails revealed he was looking to purchase several long-haul tractor-trailer rigs.

He also apparently knew his way around security systems. On an application for a safe deposit box at the Bank of America, Villa listed his occupation as a self-employed alarm installer.

Three months before the drug company warehouse in Enfield was hit, prosecutors said Villa boarded an American Airlines flight from Miami to LaGuardia Airport in New York on Jan. 7, 2010, together with another individual — a man not charged in the case, but identified in the FBI affidavit as “El Gato.” The Cat. According to the affidavit, El Gato’s real name was Yosmany Nunez Aguilar, who also had a record for theft of interstate freight.

Villa rented a luxury Infinity QX56 SUV from Hertz at the airport counter. He then drove to the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Jersey City waterfront, where Villa — a Hyatt platinum club member — had reserved two rooms for the night.

The next day, Villa and another man, believed to be Aguilar, drove to Windsor, Conn., approximately 11 miles from Enfield, where Villa checked into the Hyatt Summerfield Suites for a two-night stay.

It was a scouting mission, agents surmised in the affidavit. Late Saturday evening, about 10:35 p.m., the surveillance video at the Eli Lilly warehouse captured an individual walking around the outside and peering through the front doors of the locked building. Nobody was monitoring the camera, but someone — very likely Villa — appeared to be casing the joint, the FBI said. Villa returned to Miami the next day.

Cargo theft is a multibillion-dollar business, according to the FBI and Forsaith, a former New Hampshire state police officer who now works as a transportation security expert, said there is a methodology to how cargo thieves ferret out targets.

“In today’s day and age, you can pretty much go on the internet and tell what a company makes, where it is located — be it Pfizer or Purdue — and use that public information to make an educated guess as to what that company manufacturers, and where those products may be distributed,” he said.

Trucks leaving a warehouse may be followed to determine their routes of travel long before any theft takes place. Warehouses are not hard to find on Google Maps.

Villa, say authorities, had made a career out of it. Less than two weeks after his advance trip to Connecticut, Villa was tracked to another warehouse job 1,000 miles away. On Jan. 22, records show someone using Villa’s credit card checked into the Fairfield Inn in East Peoria.

The target that weekend, according to the FBI, was a commercial warehouse along Illinois Route 116 containing a sizable load of cigarettes being stored for distribution.

The operation seemed well orchestrated to police. Thieves did not try to go in through the front door, but rather climbed to the unsecured roof, cut through with power tools, and lowered themselves in with ropes. They seemed to know what they were looking for there. The alarm system was bypassed without cutting a single wire, and a convoy of stolen tractor-trailers pulled up to haul away more than 3,500 cases of cigarettes valued at more than $8 million.

One of the truck trailers turned up in New Jersey two days later, abandoned near Newark on the southbound shoulder of the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, authorities say.

But inside the East Peoria warehouse, someone left a clue that would help connect the dots much later. According to the FBI affidavit, DNA that they now link to Villa’s older brother, Amed, was recovered at the scene.

With dark hair and the tattoo of a skull on his right arm, Amed Villa was well known to law enforcement authorities. He reportedly installed fire doors for a living, according to his attorney, but he had a history of arrests and convictions for burglary. He had been arrested and convicted for burglary in January 2000 in Seminole County, Fla., and charged with multiple burglary-related offenses in Florida between 1995 and 2005, the FBI affidavit noted.

A Cuban citizen, he had been ordered deported from the United States, according to the FBI, although he had not been detained. Rather, he was required to periodically check in with immigration authorities. He had not done so for years, according to the affidavit.

In July 2009, another multimillion-dollar cigarette warehouse burglary was reported in Montgomery, Ill. Inside, said the FBI, they again found DNA that matched the same unique biological fingerprint picked up in East Peoria. Days before the July 4 break-in, the FBI found Amaury Villa had checked into a hotel in Rosemont, some 40 miles away, and checked out after the heist.

Then in August 2009, thieves struck the big GlaxoSmithKline distribution warehouse in Chesterfield, Va., cutting through the roof, disabling the alarms and driving away with at least $4.3 million of its respiratory drug Advair Diskus.

Amaury again had not been far away. The day before, he had checked into a hotel in Chester, Va., some 15 miles away from Chesterfield, according to the FBI. And investigators again had a DNA match to the earlier jobs, they said, left on a coffee cup in the warehouse.

Officials will not disclose if they knew who they were looking for based on the DNA. But if they did not yet know the name of Amed Villa, the evidence showed that one person had been at the scene of three major unsolved crimes.


In March, members of the gang were zeroing in on their new target, the Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., according to complaints filed in the case and other court documents.

Amaury Villa had just negotiated lease agreements for two Freightliner CL-20 tractor trucks — one for $20,205 and the other for $23,211 — through the company he set up in Florida, called Trans-USA.

Villa rented another Infiniti QX56 in early March, between a flurry of flights he made to and from Miami and New York. On March 12, Villa checked back into the Summerfield Suites, using his platinum Hyatt membership card.

The Connecticut break-in occurred on the night of March 13, following the same script as that of the GlaxoSmithKline theft in Virginia, the cigarette heist in East Peoria, and the job in Montgomery. The thieves went in on a Saturday night, climbed to the roof, cut into the drugmaker’s warehouse, rappelled down using climbing gear to the floor below and knocked out the alarm system without cutting wires.

“The security surveillance system and alarm were disabled in a manner which indicated familiarity with systems of this type,” wrote FBI agent John Howell in his affidavit. “For example, wires were not cut, but rather unplugged and only certain of the wires were unplugged. Other wires, which might have set off alarms outside of Connecticut were not disconnected for some time.”

The crew had plenty of time to themselves and put together 49 pallets of drugs, using forklifts inside the warehouse to load boxes of Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug used to treat bipolar disorder; Prozac and Cymbalta, both antidepressant drugs; and Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug used to treat lung cancer.

They drove away into the night, and into international headlines of what seemed like a Hollywood-style caper movie, starring a crack team of brazen professionals who knew what they were looking for before they punched their way inside.

But as smart as the alleged gang members were, law enforcement documents say, they left more evidence behind — enough to get the Villa brothers arrested.

When the Enfield Police Department was called to the scene, they found an opened case of water bottles, with several empty plastic bottles scattered on the floor of the kitchen and office area of the warehouse. Later in a lab, they found DNA on the water bottle that matched the DNA found on the coffee cup of the GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia, and at two Illinois warehouse break-ins, linking four jobs now to the same man — Amed Villa.

Also lying on the floor was a collection of several red-handled Husky-brand hand tools and an assortment of power tools, all with that immaculate, never-used look. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut would not disclose what specific tools were used, but the thieves could not have made a more ill-advised purchase.

Husky is a brand sold only at Home Depot stores, and investigators speculated that someone might have purchased everything at one time. Agents began scouring Home Depot computer records to find out if how many collections of the eight tools matching those recovered in Connecticut had ever been sold together in one place.

The answer was a blockbuster. The purchase had been made only once in the past 12 months — at the Flushing, N.Y., store on March 12, 2010, at 1:13 p.m.

The home improvement store’s own records not only provided a road map, but images of the sale itself at the checkout line. Surveillance cameras in the store showed two men at the register, paying for the $757 purchase in cash. Those same two men could then be seen on other video footage Home Depot maintained of its parking lot, as they put their purchases into the back of an SUV.

It looked a lot like the Infiniti QX56 rented by Villa.


Just days after the theft, the FBI in New Haven got an anonymous call helping connect more of the pieces. Three of the perpetrators of the Eli Lilly heist, the caller said, would be meeting in the near future to negotiate the load.

Among them was Aguilar, who the caller knew only as El Gato. All of them, the FBI was told, hung out at the Rickenbacker Marina in Key Biscayne, Fla., where the nearby Rusty Pelican offers up a great waterside view of Miami, along with steaks, burgers with avocado fries, and Holy Mackerel Special Golden Ale.

The surveillance that followed would soon lead investigators to others, and an undercover buy operation to locate the stolen drugs, the criminal complaints show.

Pharmaceuticals are typically marketed through wholesalers, but there has long been a secondary wholesale market that often deals with products offered at cheaper prices because they are about to expire. Sellers are supposed to have “pedigrees” to show the stuff came from an authorized wholesaler.

“Typically you have these sellers with fax machines who blast out that they have this stuff available cheap,” said former New Jersey federal prosecutor A. Jeff Ifrah, whose Washington-based law firm represents major health, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

“There’s a ready market,” he conceded. “Although there’s not necessarily a market super-diligent about the pedigrees of these products.”

In fact, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey set up a major sting in 2004 called “Operation Pill Collector” to catch pharmaceutical thieves by setting up a fake wholesale company with the help of an informant who agreed to cooperate with the FBI after he was caught selling stolen drugs with fake pedigree paperwork. Instead of looking for the bad guys, the investigation had bad guys coming to them.

Ultimately, 17 people in New Jersey and three other states were arrested on charges of trafficking $56 million in stolen or misdirected prescription drugs, which were sold to local pharmacies at big discounts.

The drugs taken from the Eli Lilly warehouse would have been much harder to move. Forsaith said that because of pressure from law enforcement, publicity about the Eli haul became almost too hot to handle. The alleged gang members only felt comfortable dealing small to the black market, FBI documents said.

In a meeting in Elizabeth, one of those eventually charged with hijacking a tractor-trailer load of inhalers stolen from Tampa, Fla., discussed the importance of holding “cold” stolen goods. Caught on surveillance tape by an informant, Reynado Tapanes, 45, of Miami, was recorded saying, “If you’re holding hot stuff … you’re gonna get burned at some moment.”

Samples of Advair stolen from Glaxo were already showing up in legitimate pharmacies as far west as Texas, sparking an alert by the Food and Drug Administration over concerns that improper storage conditions might render the products ineffective, risking the health of patients.

In mid-August 2010, according to the FBI affidavit, the U.S. Customs Service intercepted a FedEx package addressed to a business at the Rickenbaker Marina, sent from the Dominican Republic. The package contained approximately 2,200 counterfeit labels for the pharmaceuticals stolen from the Eli Lilly warehouse. Someone, the FBI believed, was trying to re-label the haul.


By late 2010, the gang appears to have been penetrated, court documents suggest. Law enforcement sources said a buy-and-bust operation being directed by a cargo theft task force headed by FBI agent Tom Hauck in Newark led investigators to Florida beginning in 2009, after an $8.8 million tractor-trailer load of drugs was hijacked at a truck stop in Georgia.

For more than a year, transactions in stolen merchandise tied to those eventually arrested were recorded by several unidentified individuals cooperating with the feds. In one meeting, an informant arranged to have part of a stolen drug shipment delivered to the Toys “R” Us parking lot in North Bergen. When it arrived, the trailer was hooked up to another tractor and driven away, and then returned empty an hour later in exchange for a cash payment of $64,000.

According to Amaury’s attorney, the government told him that an informant fingered Villa when drugs stolen from Eli Lilly were being fenced.

“From what I understand, the government conducted surveillance on my client. When he turned in a rental car, they found a set of keys that fit a storage warehouse where they had followed him earlier,” said Rubino.

The FBI agents tried the keys to every storage locker at the facility and found several that opened. Then they obtained a search warrant to look inside, and discovered the stolen pharmaceuticals, according to Rubino.

On the morning of May 3, teams of federal agents began arresting people — including the Villa brothers. In all, 22 men were charged in four states.

None of those charged has yet to go to trial.

Amed Villa on Thursday entered a plea of not guilty in Connecticut. His attorney, Jonathan Einhorn of New Haven, said it was still early in the process.

“The government has a very dramatic account of what happened,” said Einhorn. “But this is not Hollywood. You have to prove the facts.”

Amaury Villa sits in jail in Florida.

“He’s not happy he’s been arrested,” said Rubino. But the lawyer conceded this may not be the easiest case he has ever handled. “There may be significant physical evidence in this case,” he said.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

Mexican Cartel Hides Millions in Horse Races, U.S. Alleges

June 12, 2012

The New York Times on June 12, 2012 released the following:


Newcomers rarely make it into the winner’s circle at the All American Futurity, considered the Kentucky Derby of quarter horse racing.

Yet in September 2010, a beaming band of men waving Mexican flags and miniature piñatas swept into Ruidoso, N.M., to claim the million-dollar prize with a long-shot colt named Mr. Piloto.

Leading the revelry at the track was Mr. Piloto’s owner, José Treviño Morales, 45, a self-described brick mason who had grown up poor in Mexico. Across the border, Ramiro Villarreal, an affable associate who had helped acquire the winning colt, celebrated at a bar with friends.

As for the man who made the whole day possible, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, he was living on the run, one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the world.

Mr. Treviño, a younger brother of José Treviño, is second in command of Mexico’s Zetas drug trafficking organization. Thin with a furrowed brow, he has become the organization’s lead enforcer — infamous for dismembering his victims while they are still alive.

The race was one of many victories for the Treviño brothers, who managed to establish a prominent horse breeding operation, Tremor Enterprises, in the United States that allowed them to launder millions of dollars in drug money, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials. The operation amounted to a foothold in the United States for one of Mexico’s most dangerous criminal networks, the officials said.

Using Miguel Ángel Treviño’s cash, José Treviño’s legal residency and Mr. Villarreal’s eye for a good horse, Tremor bought a sprawling ranch in Oklahoma and an estimated 300 stallions and mares. The Treviño brothers might have kept their operation quiet, given the criminal connection, but their passion for horses and winning apparently proved too tempting. In the short span of three years, Tremor won three of the industry’s biggest races, with prizes totaling some $2.5 million.

The business was “so far out there it’s hard to believe,” said Morris Panner, a former prosecutor who handled drug cases. “Maybe they were using some kind of perverse logic that told them they could hide in plain sight, precisely because people wouldn’t believe it or question it.”

The Justice Department moved against Tremor on Tuesday morning, dispatching several helicopters and hundreds of law enforcement agents to the company’s stables in Ruidoso and its ranch in Oklahoma. Jose Treviño and several associates were taken into custody and were charged later in the day, authorities said.

Miguel Angel Trevino and another brother, Omar, were also charged. The two remain at large in Mexico. Omar Trevino is also a high-ranking member of the Zetas and an F.B.I. affidavit filed in United States district court describes him as participating in the money laundering.

The affidavit said the Zetas funneled about $1 million a month into buying quarter horses in the United States. The authorities were tipped off to Tremor’s activities in January 2010, when the Zetas paid more than $1 million in a single day for two broodmares, the affidavit said.

The New York Times became aware of Tremor’s activities in December 2011 while reporting on the Zetas. The Times learned of the government’s investigation last month and agreed to hold this story until Tuesday morning’s arrests.

The brothers’ activities on either side of the border made for a stark contrast. One week in May began with the authorities pointing fingers at Miguel Ángel Treviño for dumping the bodies of 49 people — without heads, hands or feet — in garbage bags along a busy highway in northern Mexico. The week concluded with José Treviño fielding four Tremor horses in a prestigious race at Los Alamitos Race Course, near Los Angeles.

By then, Mr. Villarreal’s story had come to a fatal, fiery end. Not long after the 2010 victory at Ruidoso, he was detained by the Drug Enforcement Administration and reluctantly agreed to work as an informant. Five months later, his charred remains were found in a burnt-out car on the highway outside Nuevo Laredo.

The buzz around Tremor’s winnings and acquisitions began three years ago, when José Treviño bought an estimated $3 million in quarter horses, including one named Number One Cartel.

Since then he has worked with breeders, trainers and brokers considered pillars of the business. Tremor Enterprises did not always put its name on the horses it owned or the races they ran, presumably to avoid the attention of tax collectors and law enforcement authorities, according to federal agents.

But people inside the financially struggling industry do not need written records to tell them who is doing business with whom. And some of those insiders acknowledged that the subject of José Treviño’s identity, and where he got his money, was treated like so many taboos: people did not ask many questions, either because they did not care, or did not want to know.

“Everyone knows who José Treviño is,” one trainer said. “But all they cared about was whether his checks would clear.”

A Drug Organization Ascends

Made up of rogue members of the Mexican military and police, the Zetas were a protection force for the powerful Gulf Cartel before they set out on their own in 2010. Their ascendancy ignited a spate of massacres and assassinations of elected officials, police chiefs, journalists and others, which turned organized crime from a law enforcement problem to the No. 1 national security threat for Mexico’s fragile democracy.

Miguel Ángel Treviño, known as Zeta-40, or just 40, was never in the military. But he became useful to the Zetas for his experience moving contraband across the border.

Law enforcement authorities said the Zetas have been able to rapidly expand their reach beyond Mexico’s borders with the United States and Guatemala. And while other Mexican drug organizations prefer to keep themselves and their money close to home, the Zetas have established outposts as far as South America and West Africa.

“The Zetas are particularly adroit at spreading their tentacles across borders,” said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior official with the Drug Enforcement Administration. He added that the gang’s extensive intelligence and operational capabilities allow it to take control of new territory so quickly that it is difficult for law enforcement to keep up.

Their primary stronghold is Nuevo Laredo, one of North America’s busiest border-crossings and Mr. Trevino’s hometown.

He had grown up there in a large family with six brothers, including José, and six sisters, American authorities said. Like most local residents, the Treviño family treated the border as a kind of imaginary line.

Law enforcement authorities knowledgeable about the family said the siblings learned the tricks of moving easily between the United States and Mexico, using temporary visas and border-crossing cards to start families, buy properties and do business in both countries.

Court records lay out the nature of the brothers’ turn to crime, which dates back at least two decades. In 1995, an older brother, Juan Francisco Treviño, was sentenced on charges of conspiring to smuggle hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the United States.

On the witness stand, Juan Francisco described himself as a struggling entrepreneur who had tried to make a go of a small construction company, Treviño Masonry, but later went into trucking.

Prosecutors argued that those businesses were fronts for the Treviños’ smuggling activities, citing a raft of lapsed business licenses, false identification documents and suspicious wire transfers.

The defendant was sentenced to 22 years in prison, and remains incarcerated. José and Miguel Ángel Treviño were implicated in the case, but were never prosecuted for lack of evidence, said authorities involved in the investigation.

It is unclear whether the two brothers parted ways at that point or continued collaborating. Miguel Ángel Treviño’s rise through the ranks of the Zetas is well known. Jere Miles, an expert on the Zetas at the Department of Homeland Security, said that among the Mexican underworld, Mr. Treviño had gained the notoriety of a cult figure, one who has escaped unscathed from several gun battles against the law, makes deals with no one and seems unafraid to die. Dismembered bodies, dumped by the dozens, have become his calling card.

He also manages the organization’s money, according to George Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary who has written a book about the Zetas.

The trail of public information on José Treviño goes cold until 2009, when he began buying expensive racehorses.

“From all appearances, he looked like anyone else interested in quarter horses,” said one person in the industry who knows José Treviño. “But he had a massive amount of money, with no good explanation where it came from. And he had a family name that made a lot of people wonder.”

New Player at the Track

As much as Tremor was a money-laundering operation, the Treviño brothers’ quarter horse venture allowed them to mix business with pleasure. Horses have long been considered a status symbol in Latin America and drug traffickers have been among the region’s most avid collectors.

Law enforcement officials said quarter horse racing was one of Miguel Ángel Treviño’s favorite pastimes, and even while living on the run, he has managed to keep control of several ranches and racetracks in Mexico and Guatemala where he holds match races, known as parejeras.

But Mexican horse racing — like so much else in that country — has been battered by the violence of the drug war. Many Mexican breeders have moved their operations to the United States, where they could buy horses with better bloodlines and compete for bigger prizes, without fearing for their lives.

“Much of the growth in American quarter horse racing is due to those guys,” said one industry expert, referring to the influx of breeders and buyers from Mexico. “They have spent a lot of money. And it’s made a big, big difference.”

The races, centered in the Southwest, pit scrappier, less expensive horses than high-end thoroughbreds in contests that can be over in less than 20 seconds.

To get in on the action at American tracks, Miguel Ángel Treviño needed someone he could trust to pick a winner. For that, he turned to Mr. Villarreal.

Mr. Villarreal was an unlikely horseman, the socially awkward son of a bookkeeper and teacher known for his build and bottomless appetite as “El Gordo,” or “Fatso.” He began attending auctions as a child, and developed an uncanny ability to spot horses that may not have come from the best lineage, but whose stride or attitude suggested an exceptional capacity for speed.

Mr. Villarreal’s parents said he started buying horses as a teenager, mostly borrowing from relatives and friends. Still, he never seemed to have enough to purchase the kinds of horses that could compete for major prizes. Nor did the strikingly effeminate man ever develop the social skills needed to fit into the macho world of breeders and trainers.

In some ways, said one friend, he stopped trying. For awhile, he named his horses after runway models — like Campbell, as in Naomi, and Elle, as in Macpherson — because he was captivated by women’s fashion.

Mr. Villarreal got his big break in 2006, when he cobbled together $10,500 to buy a colt at an auction at Los Alamitos, records show. He took the horse to Mexico, named it “El Sicario” — which means “The Assassin” — and entered it in the parejera circuit, where it began to beat younger, better-rated competitors.

“That horse got 40’s attention,” said one of Mr. Villarreal’s friends. “He told Ramiro, ‘I want you to buy horses for me.’ ”

He did not hesitate, the friend said. “This was his chance to live his dream.”

Mr. Villarreal’s father, who is also named Ramiro, saw it slightly differently.

“If someone like that asks you to do something,” the elder Mr. Villarreal said, “Are you going to tell him no?”

Soon, the younger Mr. Villarreal’s name began appearing on the lists of the top buyers at auctions in California, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. His first champion was Tempting Dash, which won more than $600,000 in 2009, set a track record during the Texas Classic Futurity and gave Tremor its first victory in a million-dollar race.

No matter how successful, Mr. Villarreal always showed deference to his boss, calling him “Papi.” When Miguel Ángel Treviño wanted to see Tempting Dash for himself, Mr. Villarreal drove the horse, along with dozens of others, to Mexico.

Getting back was more complicated. To avoid inspections, quarantines and other procedures required for bringing livestock into the United States, Mr. Villarreal had trainers sneak the horses back across the border, herding them just after dawn through the Rio Grande.

“My son used to tell me that his biggest blessing was also his curse,” said Mr. Villarreal’s father. “He would tell me, ‘My problem is that I am good at what I do, so a lot of people ask me to help them. Some of those people are good. Some of those people are bad.”

‘A Great Moment’

As much as Miguel Ángel Treviño relied on Mr. Villarreal, he needed his brother, José, to be the face of his fledgling American horse business.

José Treviño, the clean-cut father of three, with a small tattooed Tremor logo on his hand, almost always attended races with his family at his side. He often credited his success to a combination of divine intervention and dumb luck.

“After a win, he always says that he’s been blessed with an ability to pick the right horses and run them in the right races,” said one person who met him. “He’s always humble. He’s the kind of guy who knows what he doesn’t know, who seems eager to learn, and who isn’t shy about asking for advice.”

At the start, José Treviño seemed reticent in the spotlight, avoiding reporters by pretending he did not speak good English. But the more races he won, the more comfortable he seemed with cameras and microphones. People who knew him said he never sought out the media, but never refused to talk when they called.

And they called often.

“That was awesome, that was awesome,” José Treviño said, beaming before reporters in November 2009, after Tempting Dash won the Texas Classic Futurity. “We were expecting him to run big, but we weren’t expecting something like this, to break the track record like this.”

The following year, when the colt named Mr. Piloto won the All American Futurity in Ruidoso, N.M., racing writers called it the “biggest upset in All-American history,” and marveled at how Mr. Treviño, with a “green-as-grass” horse, could beat competitors with better qualifying times and world-class jockeys.

Then last year, a sorrel filly named Separate Fire swept the Ed Burke Futurity at Los Alamitos, Calif., delivering José Treviño his third race where the top prizes were worth $1 million — a record.

“We’re down-to-the-ground people,” he humbly told Track Magazine after the race last July. “This is a great moment, one we are going to enjoy for a long time. But I think you have to take it as it comes and don’t let it change your life.”

Still, his life did change. Tremor’s winning streak allowed him to hire the most respected jockeys, trainers and sales associates in the business. Last year, said people who know him, José Treviño moved his family from a modest suburban house in Mesquite, Tex., where he said he worked in the construction industry, to a large ranch outside Lexington, Okla.

The 70-acre ranch, Zule Farms, is named after his wife, Zulema, a former secretary who told people that she kept the books for Tremor. A person familiar with the ranch said that Mr. Treviño had converted a manure-filled cattle barn on the property into a breeding facility, with state-of-the-art labs and special stalls where mares are implanted with embryos.

Across the quarter horse industry, people started to whisper about where he was getting his money.

“There’s no way all the money he’s putting into that ranch came from being a brick mason. It’s just not logical,” said a person familiar with Zule Farms.

Nor were José Treviño’s operations always transparent. Records show that on at least a couple occasions, he had other people sign for the company’s major purchases. One deal was signed by a teenager who looked like he was not yet old enough to drive. The other was handled by the scion of a prominent quarter horse family, Tyler Graham, who stunned a packed auction house in Oklahoma by agreeing to pay a record $875,000 for a broodmare named Dashin Follies.

At the time of the sale, Mr. Graham said he was buying the horse on behalf of a client he would only identify as “a Mexico resident.” Shortly afterward, records show, he turned the horse over to Tremor. Mr. Graham has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

An industry expert who attended the auction said the sale prompted more rumors. But he said sketchy deals are not uncommon in an industry where payments are made in cash and records are notoriously — even deliberately — unreliable.

“If someone walks into an auction with hundreds of thousands of dollars, and refuses to give his name, no one is going turn him away,” the industry expert said. “What they’ll tell him is, ‘We’ll register the horse in any name you want.’ ”

A Mysterious Death

As José Treviño’s prominence grew in the quarter horse community, so did Miguel Ángel Treviño’s place in the drug trade. By the end of 2010, he had helped lead a brutal expansion so deep into Mexico that the Zetas became not only a priority for Mexico’s security forces, but also an enemy that inspired other drug organizations to join forces and fight.

Miguel Ángel Treviño’s control over drug warehouses and hit squads across the border also compelled United States authorities to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

At the same time, Mr. Villarreal was falling out of favor with Tremor. He was in debt because the Treviño brothers barely paid him enough to cover travel costs, friends said. Mr. Villarreal began padding his expenses, prompting Miguel Ángel Treviño to suspect him of skimming money from Tremor, the friends said.

In September 2010, Mr. Villarreal was traveling to a horse auction in Oklahoma when he was detained by D.E.A. agents during a layover at a Houston airport. A spokesman for the agency refused to comment on its relationship with Mr. Villarreal.

But several law enforcement officials familiar with the case said agents held him for up to six hours, questioning him about his ties to Miguel Ángel Treviño. Before releasing him, the agents confiscated Mr. Villarreal’s cellphone and computer, and ordered him to meet with them a few days later.

When Mr. Villarreal returned, the agents said he could either work for them as an informant or face being prosecuted himself, according to the officials. The D.E.A. wanted Mr. Villarreal to help track Miguel Ángel Treviño’s whereabouts and then lure him into the United States.

Mr. Villarreal pleaded that he was too nervous to pull off the ruse, adding that Miguel Ángel Treviño would never trust him enough to follow him across the border.

But the D.E.A. insisted and a beleaguered Mr. Villarreal relented, the officials said.

At least once, Mr. Villarreal tipped off his handlers when Miguel Ángel Treviño went to a racetrack in Nuevo Laredo.

“Mexican authorities took pictures of 40, but they didn’t try to arrest him,” said one of Mr. Villarreal’s friends. “They told Ramiro that they were afraid too many people might get killed. Ramiro told them if they waited any longer, he was going to get killed.”

Sometime around the end of that year, Miguel Ángel Treviño summoned Mr. Villarreal to a meeting. Mr. Villarreal’s friends recounted the following incident as he had described it to them.

A pickup point was arranged in Laredo, where Mr. Villarreal was blindfolded and then driven into the Mexican desert by gang members.

Minutes dragged as Mr. Villarreal waited for Miguel Ángel Treviño to arrive. He saw two vats filled with a liquid he presumed to be acid, one of the trafficker’s preferred methods for disposing of bodies.

“Where’s Papi?” he asked the men.

“Don’t worry,” they answered. “He’s coming.”

Miguel Ángel Treviño arrived about an hour later in a car with more lieutenants and an unknown man, who was also wearing a blindfold.

The trafficker hugged Mr. Villarreal and asked, “You’re not screwing me, are you, Gordo?”

“No, of course not, Papi,” Mr. Villarreal answered.

Saying he would be back “in a minute,” Miguel Ángel Treviño walked over to the unknown man, took off his blindfold, shot him in the head and ordered his men to dump the body in one of the vats of acid.

Mr. Villarreal passed out. He told his friends he did not know how long he was unconscious, but when he awoke Miguel Ángel Treviño was slapping him in the face and laughing.

“What’s wrong, Gordo?” he joked. “You can’t handle seeing me kill someone? Next time, I’m going to have you do it.”

“No Papi,” Mr. Villarreal said. “I don’t want there to be a next time.”

The drug trafficker got back into his car and drove away. Mr. Villarreal was taken back to Laredo and immediately got in touch with the D.E.A., imploring the agents to release him from their agreement.

“When I met him he was a complete mess; profusely sweating, gangrene in one leg, and barely able to walk,” said a former law enforcement official. “He was in between a rock and a hard place: either stay in the United States and risk going to prison, or go back to Mexico and risk getting killed.”

In the end, Mr. Villarreal, 38, continued informing for the D.E.A. and in March, Miguel Ángel Treviño summoned him to another meeting.

On March 10, 2011, Mr. Villarreal’s car was found incinerated outside Nuevo Laredo. There was so little left of him that authorities took DNA samples from the ashes to identify his remains.

One federal law enforcement official said some agents believed his death was an accident, but acknowledged that no investigation was conducted.

Mr. Villarreal’s father said he had little hope of ever finding the truth. Asked who he thought was behind Mr. Villarreal’s death, the round, balding man looked over at his wife, tears streaming down her cheeks, and echoed a refrain heard from so many Mexican crime victims. “If we ask questions, we could be the next ones to die, so for us, this is a closed chapter.”

Whispers of a “mob hit” spread across the quarter horse industry. In March, law enforcement agents even raided Tremor’s stables at Los Alamitos racetrack. But none of it seemed to slow down Tremor’s business.

Last weekend, at Los Alamitos, a Tremor colt named Mr. Ease Cartel ran the second-fastest qualifying time for a million-dollar race scheduled for June 24. When Jose Trevino’s daughter was married recently, guests included well-known figures in the industry and Track magazine covered the “big event” on its Web site.

“If he had been some thug, or the stereotypical person you’d expect to be in a drug cartel, then maybe people wouldn’t have accepted him and done business with him,” a former trainer said of José Treviño. “But he’s a really nice guy, so none of us wanted to believe he could have anything to do with the killing going on in Mexico.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.