Judge approves release on bail for Texas horse trainer in alleged Zetas plot

June 19, 2012

The Washington Post on June 18, 2012 released the following:

“By Associated Press, Published: June 18

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge ruled Monday that a Texas horse trainer charged with conspiring to launder money for Mexico’s powerful Zetas drug cartel should be released on bail, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that the threat of cartel reprisals against him was so severe it could harm the surrounding community.

Eusevio Maldonado-Huitron remained in custody because federal prosecutors said they will appeal the decision. Hours later, however, federal prosecutors filed a motion to withdraw their appeal, clearing the way for Maldonado-Huitron’s release soon.

Maldonado-Huitron ran a horse farm in Bastrop County southeast of Austin and is among 15 people charged with helping the Zetas launder millions of dollars through quarter horse operations in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.

After listening to a string of witnesses in a bail hearing that stretched over two days, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said he was setting conditions for Maldonado-Huitron’s release, but he didn’t immediately make them public.

Prosecutors conceded that they had no evidence Maldonado-Huitron was violent but said there was a risk he could flee to Mexico and disappear given his family ties in that country. However, the greater danger in releasing him from federal custody, they argued, was the threat posed by the Zetas targeting him and his family — and by extension, the community at large.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Fernald said she was limited on what she could say in open court prior to trial. But she argued that Maldonado-Huitron should remain in custody given the “nature and seriousness of the danger to any member of the community,” due to both “the nature of this organization and the seriousness of the potential retaliation, not just to him but to his family members and anyone else.”

That argument was based on testimony Friday from FBI agent Haskell Wilkins, who said the defendant was a serious flight risk due to the possibility he could be targeted by the Zetas.

But Maldonado-Huitron’s attorney, assistant federal Public Defender Jose Gonzalez-Falla, countered Monday that “we haven’t heard anything to indicate” his client’s guilt. He said prosecutors’ arguments of “’trust us, it’s in the indictment’” is not enough.

Gonzalez-Falla said Maldonado-Huitron is an illiterate horse trainer who poses no threat to the Zetas. An associate of Maldonado-Huitron’s from El Paso testified Monday that the trainer was actually dismissed weeks before his arrest because his horses were underperforming, which the defense attorney said meant his client was now even less important in the eyes of the cartel.

“Why on earth would they hit my client?” he asked. “What has he done? He’s a horse trainer.”

Also testifying Monday was Maldonado-Huitron’s brother, Jesus, who when asked if he knew what the Zetas were answered through an interpreter, “just what you hear on TV.”

“From what they say, they killed a lot of people in Mexico and then they toss the bodies out,” the elder Maldonado-Huitron testified.

Gonzalez-Falla said his client had a right to get paid for his services no matter who hired him, adding that the government’s arguments were based only on “a bunch of rumors about receiving some money.” He said prosecutors feared the ferociousness of any possible reprisals, “just because they’re the Zetas and they’re bad and they kill people and take their heads off.”

“What does that have to do with my client?” he asked.

Austin sided with the defense, saying Maldonado-Huitron’s family might be targeted, but that the threat was no less acute if the defendant was in prison. He said the only risk to the lager community he could see might be “someone’s horse might get beat in a race if Mr. Huitron trains the horse.”

Austin also said he appreciated the flight risk but couldn’t imagine the defendant fleeing to Mexico given how powerful the Zetas are there.

Maldonado-Huitron is “frankly, a lot better off in the United States than in Mexico, which is the only place I can see he’d flee to,” the judge said.”

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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

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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 mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


US Indicts 14 In Alleged Drug and Money Laundering Scheme Involving Horses

June 13, 2012

The Wall Street Journal on June 12, 2012 released the following:

“By Samuel Rubenfeld

A federal grand jury in Texas voted to return an indictment against 14 defendants in connection with a conspiracy to launder Los Zetas drug money by buying, training, breeding and racing American quarter horses in the U.S.

Among those charged was Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the leader of Los Zetas, along with his brothers, Oscar Omar Trevino Morales and Jose Trevino-Morales, the Justice Department said.

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. It accuses the Zetas of directing part of the cash generated from selling drugs to buy, train, breed and race quarter horses in the U.S.

Miguel and Oscar sent their brother Jose and his wife cash to operate Tremor Enterprises LLC, the business they created for the horse training, the indictment said.

“This case is a prime example of the ability of Mexican drug cartels to establish footholds in legitimate U.S. industries and highlights the serious threat money laundering causes to our financial system,” said Rich Weber, chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division, in a statement (pdf).

“This attack on one of the Zeta’s most profitable money laundering schemes is an essential front in the war on drugs and will financially disrupt and help dismantle this violent international criminal organization,” Weber said.

The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of several quarter horses, including Tempting Dash, winner of the Dash for Cash at Lone Star Park race track in Grand Prairie, Texas, on Oct. 24, 2009; Mr. Piloto, $1 million All American Futurity winner at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day, 2010; Dashin Follies; Coronita Cartel; and Separate Fire.

It also seeks the forfeiture of farm and ranch equipment; horse racing equipment; property in Lexington, Okla. and Bastrop County, Texas; and money contained in bank accounts used in the scheme.

Earlier Tuesday, authorities arrested seven of the 14 defendants, including Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife, Zulema Trevino, in Lexington, Okla. Also arrested were Fernando Solis Garcia in Ruidoso, N.M.; Carlos Miguel Nayen Borbolla, Adrian Farias and Felipe Alejandro Quintero in Los Angeles; and Eusevio Maldonado Huitron in Austin, Texas. They remain in federal custody, the Justice Department said.

None of those arrested could be reached for comment.

The New York Times, in a blockbuster 4,000-word story, reported earlier Tuesday about the scheme. The Times reported that an FBI affidavit said the Zetas channeled about $1 million a month into buying quarter horses in the U.S, and that authorities were tipped off in January 2010, when the cartel paid more than $1 million in a single day for two broodmares.

In its report, the paper said it became aware of Tremor’s activity in December 2011 while reporting about the Zetas and learned of the U.S. government probe last month, but agreed to hold the story until Tuesday morning’s arrests.

Among those charged but not arrested is Francisco Antonio Colorado Cessa of Veracruz, Mexico. Colorado Cessa is accused in the indictment of acting as a straw buyer for various horses. In connection with the indictment, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control slapped Kingpin Act sanctions [OFAC SDN Sanctions] on him that label Colorado Cessa as a narcotics trafficker.

“Our action cuts Colorado Cessa off from the U.S. financial system and it is yet another signal to Miguel and Omar Trevino Morales, and the Zetas, that OFAC will target their financial and business network wherever it is found,” said Adam Szubin, director of OFAC, in the statement.

The Zetas were designated under the Kingpin Act as a narcotics trafficker by the president in 2009. The group is notorious for its violence; officials blamed the Zetas for a dump of 49 headless and handless bodies in May along a Mexican highway. Since 2009, OFAC has designated several of its top leaders and dozens of its lieutenants.”

US v. Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, et al. – Federal Criminal Indictment

18 U.S.C. § 1956

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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 mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com 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:

“By GINGER THOMPSON

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.””

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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

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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 mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life

May 10, 2012

Houston Chronicle on May 10, 2012 released the following:

“Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords
By Dane Schiller

FORT WORTH – The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life – without parole.

“It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” at the prison here. “I am no one.”

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Just 10 defendants were acquitted at trial, and 82 saw their cases dismissed.

The statistics are similar nationwide.

The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

Cardenas once led one of Mexico’s most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He’ll be 57.

As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

“Any reasonable person would look at this and say, ‘God, are you kidding?’ ” said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. “It is not right.”

Castillo’s elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she’s serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she’s in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

“Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” she said. “I don’t say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”

At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

Castillo claims she didn’t know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

“After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ,” said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

“Information is a cooperating defendant’s stock in trade,” White said, “and if you don’t have any, … the chances are you won’t get a good deal.”

Castillo has faith that she’ll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn’t vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

“I will leave here one day with my head held high,” she said. “I don’t feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground.””

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

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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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 mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Man charged in fatal ICE ambush

December 22, 2011

El Paso Times on December 22, 2011 released the following:

“By Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times

A man accused of taking part in the Feb. 11 slaying of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent that also left a second ICE agent wounded was charged on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., after Mexico extradited him to the United States.

Julian “Piolin” Zapata Espinoza faces charges for his alleged role in the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata of Brownsville, and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila of El Paso.

“The extradition and charges filed against Zapata Espinoza is an important step in bringing Jaime and Victor’s alleged shooters to justice,” ICE Director John Morton said. “All of us at ICE are encouraged by today’s action and appreciate the unwavering work and support of all our law enforcement partners in this case.”

“The indictment unsealed today and the successful extradition of ‘Piolin’ to the United States reflect the Justice Department’s vigorous and determined efforts to seek justice for Agents Zapata and Avila,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners in Mexico to hold violent criminals accountable.”

On April 19, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned a four-count indictment against Zapata Espinoza, charging him with one count of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, for the murder of Jaime Zapata; one count of attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; and one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person, both for the attempted murder of Avila; and one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

Zapata Espinoza, who is being held without bond, appeared in U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s court and pleaded not guilty. His next appearance in court is scheduled for Jan. 25.

In a statement, the Mexican National Defense Secretariat said Mexican soldiers captured Zapata Espinoza on Feb. 23, along with other alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel.

Military officials said Zapata Espinoza “stated he was in charge of the group of gunmen that shot the U.S. agent, (and that) he said that this event was a mistake because they thought that the people in the (U.S. agents’) vehicle were members of an antagonistic (rival) group.”

U.S. officials said the two U.S. agents were traveling from a meeting in San Luis Potosi to Mexico City the day they were ambushed by a group of armed men.

Zapata, who began his law enforcement career with the Border Patrol, was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Avila, the ICE agent who was shot twice in the leg, recovered from his wounds.

One of the charges is that Zapata Espinoza participated in the attempted murder of an “internationally protected person,” according to the indictment against him.

“He was apparently a U.S. federal agent that pursuant to international law had special protection,” said Douglas C. McNabb, a lawyer and senior principal with McNabb Associates PC, a global criminal defense firm with a website at www.mcnabbassociates.com.

Sheldon Snook, a deputy court clerk in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Attorneys Manual defines “internationally protected persons” based on U.S. legislation and United Nations conventions, including the Vienna Convention.

Such persons can include heads of state, diplomats and others that in this case the U.S. State Department has determined holds the status.”

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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

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch 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 and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

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