(CBS/AP) AUSTIN, Texas - A lawyer for Jose Tevino Morales, the brother of two Mexican cartel leaders convicted of running a money laundering operation from a horse ranch in Oklahoma, described Morales as "humble, honest, trustworthy, [and] caring," but a federal judge in Texas still sentenced him to 20 years in prison Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
Morales was sentenced for investing $16 million of drug money in the buying, training and racing of horses across the Southwest. His brothers, Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, are believed to lead the Zetas cartel, which has expanded beyond the drug trade to become the biggest criminal group in Mexico.
On Thursday, Trevino's lawyer told the court that the state was treating him unfairly because of who his brothers are. But U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told Trevino, "No one in this court has alleged you are a Zeta. You are charged with moving money for the Zetas," the paper reports.
Mexican authorities arrested Miguel Angel Trevino Morales in July. A New York indictment against him estimates he received $10 million per month in income from cocaine sales alone, not to mention the money brought in by the cartel's myriad illicit activities, including kidnapping, extortion, migrant trafficking, weapons trafficking, even theft of oil from state pipelines.
During the trial earlier this year, prosecutors said 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.
Jose Trevino Morales was among 18 people indicted last year in a federal investigation that charged him with running the horse operation from a sprawling ranch near Lexington, Okla., on behalf of his brothers. Neighbors said those who worked with the ranch spent lots of cash, bought land and made improvements at a time when others in the industry were struggling financially.
More than 400 of the horses involved were seized and auctioned, and proceeds from the sales have netted the government $9 million, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks also was expected to sentence Francisco Antonio Colorado Cessa, Fernando Solis Garcia, Eusevio Maldonado and Raul Ramirez, who pleaded guilty in April to a lesser money laundering charge. Trevino's wife and daughter have pleaded guilty to lesser charges but have not been sentenced.
The trial was held in Austin because federal authorities in Central Texas prosecuted the case.