A former top official and founder of Mexico’s Zetas cartel testified Monday that the current head of the narco group and his brother laundered their drug proceeds through the horse racing industry in the United States, buying quarter horses that they raced in at least two fixed competitions.
Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, known as “El Mamito,” was extradited in September 2012, more than year after he was implicated in the killing of a U.S. customs agent in a shootout along a highway in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. He is likely the first senior member of the original gang of 14 to testify in court.
On the stand, Rejón Aguilar sat unshaven and stern-faced in a white prison uniform as he admitted to committing slayings, kidnappings and torture, telling jurors he deserted the Mexican military, which he joined at age 16, for the Gulf Cartel in 1993 when he was accused of corruption.
He said Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, now the top leader of the Zetas, bought the horse Tempting Dash, formerly named Huesos, in the United States through Ramiro Villarreal, once a renowned horse agent who witnesses have said was killed in a fiery crash after the cartel found he was cooperating with U.S. authorities. But Treviño Morales, or “Z-40,” wanted the horse in the name of his brother, José Treviño Morales, who had nothing to do with the sale of narcotics, Rejón Aguilar said.
José Treviño Morales is one of five men on trial this week accused of pouring millions of dollars worth of Zetas profits into front companies that bought, trained and raced American quarter horses. Those champions with the most distinguished pedigrees were bred for sale, witnesses have said.
On Monday, prosecutors played phone conversations between Villarreal and top leaders within the organization, including Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales and his brother, Oscar Omar Treviño Morales, another high-level official known as “Z-42”.
Rejón Aguilar identified the men in the calls and said the brothers bribed the gate starters in a 2009 race in Ruidoso, N.M., in which Tempting Dash won José Treviño Morales more than $400,000, allowing him to kick start his company, Tremor Enterprises.
Rejón Aguilar said he was interested in quarter horses before the Treviño brothers. They were his hobby, and narco traffickers invest in them, much like they invest in property, he said. “They need a way to clean the money,” he said through a Spanish translator.
Defense attorneys tried to discredit the credibility of Rejón Aguilar, who is accused of moving tons of cocaine into the United States and could be sentenced to life in prison for drug conspiracy charges in Washington, D.C. Rejón Aguilar said he was responsible for more than 30 killings and 10 kidnappings in Mexico. Some of the victims were tortured while he was present, he said.
Rejón Aguilar, a former member of the military’s elite special forces, was arrested in Mexico in July 2011. He was suspected of being involved in a firefight in February of that year that killed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata and wounded another federal agent.
Also taking the stand Monday was Tyler Graham, a member of the prominent Graham family, which has contributed thousands of dollars to top officials in Texas, including Gov. Rick Perry, and who manages Southwest Stallion Station breeding stables about 23 miles outside Austin in Elgin.
Graham, 29, told jurors that he was roped into cooperating with the FBI after he bought the $875,000-horse Dashin Follies at a packed auction in Oklahoma in January 2010. He said he bred horses for José Treviño Morales and two other defendants implicated in the case, including professional horse trainer Fernando Solis Garcia, who also is standing trial.
He said the businessmen paid him in structured payments or in cash — and were often late.
At some point, he told one of them, “I’m not a bank,” Graham said. “I have to be paid for my services.”