‘Bones’ lays bare Zeta cartel’s U.S. money-laundering reach


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New book details one cartel’s flashy U.S. money laundering operation

If you’re intrigued about the deep details of money laundering and how the FBI prosecutes it, the new book “Bones” by former newspaper editor Joe Tone provides a case study in exhaustive detail.

“Bones: Brothers, Horses, Cartels, and the Borderland Dream,” reviewed last week by the New York Times, recounts the lurid details of the Zeta cartel’s role in the bloody Mexican drug wars and cartel leaders’ sophisticated laundering operations via a brother’s quarter-horse-racing operation in the U.S.

In 2012 federal agents raided a massive ranch in Oklahoma that was one of the main locations for a vast quarter-horse operation owned by Tremor Enterprises, alleged to be a de facto U.S. arm of the Zetas cartel. A Time reporter who broke that story in 2012 described the operation this way: “The Treviño brothers devised an elaborate scheme in which Mexican businessmen paid for the horses — some of them worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — from their own bank accounts so the purchases would appear legitimate, according to the affidavit. The Zetas would later reimburse the businessmen, and the horses’ ownership would be transferred to Tremor.”

Three of the Treviño brothers were charged along with numerous others, but only Jose Treviño Morales, who ran the quarter-horse operation in the U.S., was apprehended and convicted at trial in the U.S; he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. The other two brothers were arrested in Mexico in 2013.

Prosecutors at the Treviño trial made the case that “the money laundering operation in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico created fake companies and in some cases fixed races. Horse owners, trainers and others crafted bank deposits to mask the drug money being used to fund the operation,” according to reporting by the Dallas Morning News.

The book, according to Kirkus Reviews, is “a suspenseful story as well as a fascinating depiction of the mechanics of money laundering, the largely unfamiliar world of quarter horse racing, and the dynamics of an extended family; the book draws readers into the complexities of life at the border.”

To read an extended interview with the author Joe Tone, check out this Vice interview.

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