Mexican businessman found guilty of Zetas money laundering scheme

A Mexican businessman has been convicted of a money laundering scheme involving Los Zetas drug distribution proceeds, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas said Thursday in Austin.

Francisco Colorado Cessa, 54, faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Jurors convicted Colorado Cessa on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering Thursday afternoon.

The scheme involved using millions of dollars in Los Zetas drug distribution money to buy, train, race and breed American quarter horses. The businessman, a close associate of the Zetas drug cartel’s top leaders, including Miguel Trevino Morales and Oscar Trevino Morales, made millions of dollars of purchases in New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Texas to disguise the source of the drug money and make the race winnings appear legitimate.

More than 400 quarter horses were seized by federal authorities in June 2012, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The horses were sold  or around $12 million. One of the seized horses, “Tempting Dash”, the winner of the Dash for Cash at Lone Star Park race track in Grand Prairie, sold at auction for a record $1.7 million in November 2013.

On September 5, 2013, a federal judge sentenced Colorado Cessa to 20 years in federal prison after a jury convicted him of the same charge. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that conviction and sentence in June 2015. The case was sent back to the district court for this recent trial.

“Today’s conviction affirms that two separate juries, hearing the same evidence, found Mr. Colorado guilty of laundering money for the Zetas drug cartel,” IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge William Cotter said in a statement. “When choosing to make the ‘tempting dash’ for the prize, Mr. Colorado should have known that IRS Special Agents would eventually beat him to the finish line.”

The investigation was carried out by the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the DEA with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, ICE-Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Border Patrol.

On March 12, 2014, Colorado Cessa, his son and a business associate admitted they tried to arrange a $1.2 million bribe for District Judge Sam Sparks the day before he sentenced the senior Cessa for his role in the case. The FBI and Austin Police set up a sting after recording conversations between Cessa and his son at the Bastrop County Jail, where they discussed how to bribe Sparks. Five years was added to his sentence for the attempted bribery.

Colorado Cessa is the former owner of ADT Petroservicios, an oil services company doing business with the Mexican national oil company, PEMEX.

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