The alleged leader of a Mexican drug cartel was charged with laundering drug proceeds through an operation that bred and raced quarter horses in the United States.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, 38, leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel, and his brothers Oscar Omar Trevino Morales and Jose Trevino- Morales were among 14 people indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas, U.S. prosecutors said. Seven of the defendants were arrested, including Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife, Zulema Trevino.

"The allegations in this indictment, if proven, would document yet another example of the corrupting influence of Mexican drug cartels within the United States, facilitated by the enormous profits generated by the illicit drug trade," U.S. Attorney Robert L. Pitman in San Antonio said.

Since 2008, Miguel and Oscar Trevino Morales funneled cash from illegal drug sales to Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife to buy, train, breed and race the horses, using front companies to hide ownership, the government said. The indictment identifies transactions valued at millions in New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Texas.

The defendants are charged in the May 30 indictment, unsealed Tuesday, with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.

Daryl Fields, a spokesman for Pitman, said yesterday that Jose Trevino-Morales and his wife made an initial appearance before a federal judge in Oklahoma City and will be transferred to San Antonio.

The United States seeks the forfeiture of quarter horses including Tempting Dash and Mr. Piloto, as well as equipment, property in Oklahoma and Texas, funds in bank accounts and $20 million, the amount allegedly derived from the scheme.

The cartel bought at least $4.2 million worth of quarter horses, which are used in short-distance races, over a four-year period, according to the indictment.

In 2010, for example, the alleged conspirators bought 23 horses at a New Mexico auction for more than $2.2 million. They paid with a check, according to the indictment.

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