A True Tale of Drug Cartels, Money Laundering and Horse Racing

A True Tale of Drug Cartels, Money Laundering and Horse Racing


In September 2010, bettors at the All American Futurity race in New Mexico watched the long-shot Mr. Piloto gallop to the million-dollar first prize by less than a nose, the second-closest win in the race’s history. Meanwhile, over the border in Mexico, a gang of drug traffickers from the Zetas cartel cheered the victory with whiskey, from a safe house. Mr. Piloto was registered to the company of a Dallas bricklayer named José Treviño Morales, but the money to buy him had come from his brother Miguel Treviño, alias “El Cuarenta,” a Zeta boss blamed for some of the worst massacres in Mexico’s drug war. Bloodstained dollars had gone from American drug users over the Rio Grande to cartel killers, and then back north into the American racing industry.

The true-life tale of the Zetas’ foray into quarter horses is masterfully recounted by the journalist Joe Tone in his debut book, “Bones.” He shines a light on an often overlooked corner of the blood bath ravaging Mexico: how cartel money is laundered in the United States. In this case, federal agents finally busted the operation, seizing more than 400 “narco horses,” which they auctioned off for $12 million. But with Americans estimated to spend $100 billion a year on illegal drugs, this is probably just the tip of an iceberg.


Miguel Treviño MoralesCreditU.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

In addition to following the drug money, Tone has found a great yarn. His finely-painted cast of characters includes a rookie F.B.I. agent hungry to make his name, a Texas cowboy fighting to keep his family business afloat and a talented Mexican horseman picking winners for a very dangerous boss. Tone weaves the threads together with skillful pacing and sharp prose, marking him as an important new talent in narrative nonfiction.

He is helped along by ample documentation of the case. While much of the narco world remains in the shadows, Treviño and his cronies were brought to trial in Austin, in 2013, in one of the most extensive lawsuits against a Mexican cartel to be heard in an American courtroom. (Major Mexican traffickers often don’t go to trial, because they cut deals.) Even though he builds on the reporting of Ginger Thompson, who broke the story in The New York Times, Tone adds some vivid details, recounting wiretapped phone calls and drawing the full back story from Lawson, the rookie F.B.I. agent who pursued the case. “Lawson could hear the horses if he listened closely,” Tone writes. “He was standing outside the black-iron gate with the horse silhouettes, at the bottom of a long driveway that led up to José’s brick homestead. It was a little after six in the morning, the earliest moment the court would allow them to raid without a judge’s permission.”


Tone digs deep into the colorful world of quarter-horse racing, a variant of the sport developed by white cowboys, Mexican ranchers and Native Americans. He also shows how some players in the horse industry reaped the drug money and went on to enjoy their profits; how those arrested were all Hispanic while some white horsemen doing similar things remained free; how José Treviño’s daughter, a college student who married a Marine, was caught up in the sweep.

Like many journalists of the drug war, Tone sheds doubt on the whole strategy of fighting the trade. “Better answers might lie in the halls of American power and influence — in the way drugs are regulated, drug users treated, drug traffickers sentenced.” He is right to push for more debate on how to stop the billions of drug dollars from funding the crime armies tearing Mexico apart. But law enforcement agents still need to keep hacking at the tentacles of cartel finances that stretch through the United States, where the blood wealth of narcos could be right before your eyes.

Motel 6 to pay $250,000 to settle human trafficking suit

LOS ANGELES • Motel 6 has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Los Angeles that alleged one of the chain’s locations was a base for human traffickers, drug dealers and gang members, prosecutors said.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the money will be used to help deter human trafficking.

The city in November sued the managers of a motel in the Sylmar neighborhood and G6 Hospitality Property LLC, which operates the Motel 6 chain, seeking to quell “unrelenting crime and nuisance activity.”

Los Angeles police had made more than 60 arrests at the location since 2013 for prostitution, battery, firearms possession and drug-related charges, authorities said.

“We allege this has been used as a base for which known gang members and drug dealers had operated,” Feuer said. “We allege that there was prostitution happening at this site — pimps and prostitutes both — and we allege it was a base for stolen goods, for distributing drugs like meth and cocaine and heroin.”

Raiza Rehkoff, a spokeswoman for G6 Hospitality, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

In one case, staff members “didn’t hesitate” to rent a room to an undercover police officer who had been posing as a pimp and told the workers that he intended for another undercover officer to work as a prostitute there, the lawsuit alleged.

In another incident, three undercover police officers were approached at the motel’s pool by a suspected gang member who propositioned them to work as prostitutes, offered to act as their pimp and said he would post ads on Backpage. com in exchange for half of the proceeds, Feuer said.

A loaded handgun was found hidden in a box-spring under a mattress, and police had arrested suspects in several different robberies at the motel, the city attorney said.

“I know there are other incidents where, we allege, clearly this motel was using for pimping and prostitution activities. And that needs to change,” Feuer said.

As part of the settlement, the motel will require guests to provide valid photo identification, hire security guards and post signs in the lobby about human trafficking.

The motel also will give Los Angeles police access to its guest list and visitor logs, as well as give officers access to remotely monitor the motel’s security cameras.


New Hampshire woman sentenced for human trafficking in Massachusetts

A woman from Salem, New Hampshire, has been sentenced to seven to nine years in prison in Massachusetts for human trafficking and prostitution.

Lori Barron was sentenced at Salem Superior Court for crimes committed in 2013 in Massachusetts. Prosecutors said she was found guilty of crimes committed at a day spa for men she operated in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where employees performed sex acts for clients.

“It’s frankly unimaginable to me that you could do this all day with these young women and then go home and see your daughters, who are roughly the same age, and not understand,” prosecutor Kate McDougall said.

Prosecutors said Barron was found guilty by a jury in June of human trafficking for sexual servitude, prostitution and photographing people while they were nude without their knowledge.

Barron operated a similar spa in Salem, New Hampshire, in 2011. She was arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge for an incident that happened at that time, but she was not charged with human trafficking.

“It is extremely unsettling that she chose to restart this business in Lawrence, where the population is particularly vulnerable, and I think she thought this crime would get lost in everything else that is happening in Lawrence,” McDougall said.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 12 to 15 years, while the defense asked for five. Defense attorney Michael Tumposky said her record is minor, and her risk to reoffend is low.

He also argued that even though Barron never claimed responsibility for what she did, she knows it wasn’t right.

“She is simply too ashamed to admit that she has done something wrong,” Tumposky said.

When she is released from prison, Barron will have to register as a sex offender.


Authorities find human trafficking tunnel at US-Mexican border

U.S. authorities say they’ve discovered a tunnel in California used to smuggle people across the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Customs and Border enforcement agents say the tunnel looks like an extension of an older tunnel Mexican authorities had seized before.

Which makes sense. Mexico says it doesn’t have the money to fill in the tunnels it finds, so the country just seals the entrances, leaving the rest intact.

Most tunnels on the border are used to smuggle drugs. Leaving them intact means it’s easier for cartels to just build new entrances and reclaim tunnels on the Mexican side of the border.

It’s cheaper, too: A new tunnel can cost the cartels between $800 thousand and $1 million.

The U.S. side of this particular tunnel is likely to be filled in soon. Once they’ve been cleared, authorities fill tunnels with cement, but only up to the Mexican border.



Judge allows money laundering charges against Backpage execs

California prosecutors can bring money laundering charges against the creators of a website that prosecutors label an online brothel, a judge ruled Wednesday. But he dismissed other charges months after another judge threw out the entire case as violating free speech and federal protections.

Prosecutors filed new and expanded charges against Backpage.com chief executive Carl Ferrer and website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin this spring. The three pleaded not guilty after the judge allowed the money laundering charges.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown also dismissed 15 pimping conspiracy and other charges against Backpage.com’s operators.

He ruled that those charges relate to their publishing of sex-related advertisements and cannot be filed because of a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites that post content created by others.

Brown sided with California’s state attorney general that 25 of the original 27 money laundering charges alleging illegal bank fraud can proceed.

Prosecutors have said that Backpage’s operators illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.

Backpage.com is a classified advertising webpage that prosecutors say gets more than 90 percent of its revenue — millions of dollars each month — from thinly disguised ads for prostitution.

The website shuttered its adult services section in January, but officials have said much of the same advertising has migrated to the site’s dating and massage sections with similar provocative photographs and wording.

California prosecutors and U.S. Senate investigators contend that Backpage leads the market in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children.

But federal and state officials have been struggling with how to deal with the website without violating free speech protections. The U.S. Supreme Court in January left in place a different lower-court ruling that said Backpage’s ads are protected by the federal Communications Decency Act, which is designed to protect internet publishers.

Congress is considering amending the act to omit sites that aid sex trafficking and to specifically allow states to file criminal charges.

Brown said Congress would have to act to allow criminal charges related to internet publishing.

Brown said in court that federal law provides broad immunity but added that “immunity afforded to internet service providers is not without limit. Even the most ardent defenders of a vigorous world wide web would have to concede that if a provider engaged in their own criminal acts, versus those of their customers, immunity must fail.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys each praised their partial victories.

“We’re pleased that all of the charges that have to do with pimping or prostitution or content of the website have all been thrown out, and we think that’s the right ruling in support of internet free speech and the First Amendment,” said defense attorney Jim Grant.

Defense attorney Cristina Claypoole Arguedas labeled the remaining charges “technical financial crimes” and predicted they would be dismissed later.

Supervising Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell prosecutors look forward to proving their case and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement said the ruling brings prosecutors closer to convicting “those who would prey on vulnerable young women and men.”

The company has claimed it merely publishes advertising created by third parties and is not responsible for the content.

But documents recently seized from a Backpage contractor in the Philippines seem to show it soliciting and creating sex-related ads for Backpage. Senators including California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein are now asking the U.S. Justice Department to consider fresh criminal charges.

Lawyers representing Backpage and the California attorney general have not commented on the new documents. The site and its operators also face civil lawsuits in several states filed on behalf of victims, many of whom allege they were under age 18 when they were sold for sex using the site’s classified ads.

The original charges were filed when Kamala Harris was attorney general, before she took her seat in the U.S. Senate in January. Her successor, Xavier Becerra, amended the charges after he took office.

Arizona residents Lacey and Larkin, both age 68, once owned a chain of alternative newspapers, including the Village Voice in New York City. The site also offers non-prostitution related classified ads.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee said that far from merely publishing advertisements created by others, Backpage edited up to 80 percent of the adult ads to conceal that they are for sexual transactions.


11 Men Including Middle School Coach Charged in Tenn. Human Trafficking Sting

A Sullivan North Middle School coach, a youth leader and others are facing felony charges after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Kingsport Police Department announced results from a Human Trafficking investigation.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn said 11 men face felony charges in Kingsport. The operation, called “Someone Like Me,” is the 10th of its kind in the State of Tennessee.

Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation along with the Kingsport Police Department, 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force, Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking and arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex from a juvenile.

“We want to make sure there’s no place that feels safe to those men who would victimize our state’s most vulnerable,” Gwyn said.

The people arrested in the sting include a church youth leader, a local coach, a volunteer firefighter, an EMT, and Uber driver.

“Many still think this is something that just happens in big cities. The results of this operation prove that’s not the case,” Gwyn said.

The operation took place from July 31 to Aug. 3.
TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke said during the first three days of the investigation, undercover agents posed as juvenile girls and posted ads on Backpage.com.

“Of the 11 men who showed up seeking sex with a minor, 3 of them wanted to purchase sex from a 16-year-old,” Locke said. “We will continue to conduct these operations across the state and do whatever it takes to bring those trafficking women and children, as well as those supplying the demand, to justice.”

The fourth day of the operation focused on identifying victims of trafficking with the help of the nonprofit agency Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

One woman was also cited and offered services including housing and counseling. She has been placed in transitional housing.

One individual indicted as part of the investigation has not yet been arrested.

A total of 12 people have been charged:


2 human trafficking victims rescued, L.A. man arrested in Chino raid

CHINO >> Two victims of human trafficking were rescued and a Los Angeles man was arrested after authorities say they discovered a trafficking den at a medical warehouse in Chino on Wednesday.

Luis Flores Lopez, 39, was arrested on suspicion of felony pimping and pandering. He is being held at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $100,000 bail, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials said.

The San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force learned several advertisements on Backpage.com — an online classified site that has been connected to instances of human trafficking — listed a commercial medical building in the 12500 block of 10th Street in Chino as a connection site, according to a news release.

“Investigators observed a high volume of males going to and from the business,” the statement said. “After further investigation, it was established that investigators believed victims were being trafficked for the purpose of sex inside the location.”

After obtaining a search warrant, detectives rescued two victims and detained two men authorities say were at the warehouse to pay for sex. They were later released pending further investigation, officials said.

Lopez was also found inside and arrested, sheriff’s authorities said.

Investigators say websites like Backpage.com allow traffickers to list women offering sexual services. According to FAIR Girls, an organization that offers safe housing and services to survivors of human trafficking, 90 percent of the young women and girls they serve — some as young as 14 — were listed on Backpage.

The company has said it believes the company is on firm legal ground and works hard to report abuses of the website.

The Chino investigation is ongoing.

Detectives believe there are other victims and ask anyone with information to contact the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force at 909-387-8400. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may contact WeTip at 888-78-CRIME or www.wetip.com.

4 arrests in Metro Detroit drug, human trafficking ring

Four people were arrested in connection with an alleged opioid drug and human trafficking operation based in Metro Detroit, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Tuesday.

The group — identified as Melvin Niblett, Corey Cooper, Maurice Rushton and Jasmin McGinnis — was identified through a probe that launched in September, when the joint FBI and Oakland County Gang and Violent Crimes task force received a tip about a suspected drug and prostitution ring in Madison Heights.

Niblett and Cooper were caught selling drugs in Warren and charged in a separate but related case by the Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, the Attorney General’s Office said.

They both later were released on bond. But in October, police learned Niblett was reportedly using rooms at a Southfield hotel to lead a drug and human trafficking operation with dozens of others, authorities allege.

“Drug and human trafficking continue to plague the safety of many communities in Michigan,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios said in a statement. “Today’s arrests reflect the continuing impact federal, state and local law enforcement are having on the ability of criminals to victimize and enslave others through their addiction to a variety of dangerous and sometimes lethal drugs.”

All four arrested have been charged with 24 felonies, including conducting a criminal enterprise, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $100,000, Schuette’s office said Tuesday.

An Aug. 21 preliminary examination is scheduled for Cooper, 45, Niblett, 38, of Southfield, and McGinnis, a 27-year-old from Canton Township. Rushton, 57, who was apprehended in Ohio, awaits extradition.

“The individuals involved in this human and drug trafficking ring will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Tuesday. “The victims deserve justice and I am proud of our task force members who partnered with the attorney general and other agencies to send a clear message that these types of crimes will not be tolerated in our community.”


Human trafficking and slavery affecting ‘every large town and city in UK’

National Crime Agency warns true scale of modern slavery is ‘far more prevalent’ than previously estimated, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.

The enormous scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK has been revealed in a major official report, with hundreds cases affecting “every large town and city in the country”.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the scale of the issue is far more prevalent than previously estimated, and warned that the threat is continuing to expand.

There are currently more than 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery in the UK, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe, the report reveals.

Operational activity focusing on labour and sexual exploitation co-ordinated by the NCA through May and June led to 111 arrests in the UK and some 130 people being encountered who may be considered as victims.

Linkedactivity also took place on mainland Europe resulting in around 40 further arrests and the launch of 25 further investigations.

Will Kerr, director of vulnerabilities at the NCA, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.

“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought. This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”

Responding to the report, Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, said the fight against modern slavery must go beyond arrests, and extend into more convictions as well as improved intelligence gathering and better support for victims.

“Arrests have been made by police, victims rescued and convictions secured. But the real work starts now. We need to see more convictions and criminals behind bars,” Mr Hyland said.

“We need to see information gathered and mined for intelligence that leads to organised networks dismantled. And we need these victims to be supported and cared for so that they are no longer vulnerable to traffickers and slave masters.

“It is my hope that the campaign launched today by the NCA leads to an increased awareness among the British public, so that we can pride ourselves on being a nation that will not tolerate the evil of modern slavery.”

The report comes a day after Mr Hyland accused the NCA came of not taking the crime seriously enough and allowing important information about modern slavery offences to “sit dormant” on databases.

Speaking to the Evening Standard on Thursday, Mr Hyland said measures to protect other potential victims had not been taken, in a failure he likened to allowing a rapist to “run around London” without police taking action.

The number of people being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s official framework for identifying victims of human trafficking – has been steadily rising in recent years. Almost 1,400 victims, including cases of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, were identified last year.


Photo: Rex

Tallahassee woman, 23, wanted by FBI for human trafficking

The FBI is looking for a Tallahassee woman who it says is involved in facilitating the sex trafficking of minors.

According to the FBI, 23-year-old Rachel Lynn Robillard’s last known address is in Tallahassee, but she is known to travel up the East Coast on Interstate 95. A warrant for her arrest was issued in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 29 for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking of a minor, and using interstate travel to promote prostitution.

Robillard is described as 5’7” to 5’9” with blonde hair and has a tattoo on her neck.

The FBI urges anyone with information about Robillard’s whereabouts to contact the agency’s Washington D.C. field office at 202-278-2000.