By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The brother of two kingpins of Mexico's infamous Zetas drug cartel was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in U.S. federal prison for his role in laundering money for the gang through the buying, training and racing of American quarter horses.
Jose Trevino Morales, 42, his wife and two middlemen convicted with him in May handled millions of dollars in drug proceeds for the Zetas, laundering cash through a network of straw buyers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and California, authorities said.
FBI agent Armando Fernandez said Trevino sought to avoid financial reporting requirements by making sure that no more than $10,000 in cash was ever deposited in a single bank at any time.
The money was ultimately invested in the American quarter horse industry, and some of the horses turned out to be big winners on the racing circuit. One horse, Mr. Piloto, won a $1 million purse in the 2010 All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.
The quarter-horse investments marked some of the more novel money laundering efforts tied to the Zetas, an organization blamed for many of the bloodiest atrocities carried out by Mexican drug gangs.
"This prosecution and the sentences imposed today should send a clear message to those who would attempt to import their brand of corruption and violence into the United States," U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said after the sentencing. "We will find you, we will prosecute you and we will seek the most severe consequences that the law allows."
The two middlemen, Francisco Colorado Cessa, 52, and Fernando Solis Garcia, 30, were also sentenced on Thursday after being convicted of money laundering in May. Colorado received 20 years in prison and Solis was sentenced to 13 years.
Several other lower-level participants in the operation, including Trevino's wife, Zulema, were scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.
In July, Mexican authorities arrested his younger brother, the reputed leader of the Zetas cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who was wanted for murder, torture, money laundering and ordering the kidnapping and execution of 265 migrants.
Another younger brother, top Zetas lieutenant Alejandro Trevino Morales, also known as Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, is still at large and is believed to be in Mexico.
(Editing by Brendan O'Brien, Steve Gorman and Ken Wills)