More than 300 horses that the U.S. government says were purchased as part of a Mexican drug cartel's money-laundering operation were put up for auction Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Some of the 340 quarter horses auctioned at the Heritage Place Fall Mixed Sale were bred from some of America's top racehorses, and the government's most prized horse — A Dash of Sweet Heat — sold for $1 million.
Government officials hoped to earn several million dollars from the three-day sale, and acknowledged that seizing horses through forfeiture is somewhat unusual, said Mike Lemoine, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division.
"Generally, on something that lives and breathes, we're pretty cautious," Lemoine said. "But the defendants agreed to this sale, which eliminates most of the risk for potential buyers."
Federal prosecutors say 15 people charged in the case funneled millions of dollars in drug profits through quarter horse operations. Most of the horses that were seized came from a sprawling ranch in Lexington, Okla., that prosecutors say was run by Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two alleged leaders of the Zeta drug cartel in Mexico.
Morales' attorney and family maintain he's innocent and being unfairly linked to his brothers, who were among those named in the federal indictment and are fugitives believed to be in Mexico.
The alleged ties between the horses and drug traffickers didn't bother Bob and Sandy Brown of Des Moines, Iowa, who paid $50,000 for a 1-year old filly named Follies and Corona that they plan to race and then breed because of its top-quality blood lines.
"The breeding is the No. 1 criteria for us," Bob Brown said. "We came down here to buy top quality brood mares."
Matt Witman, a ranch manager at Lazy E Ranch in Guthrie, said the government-owned horses provided a huge boost to the horse show and attracted buyers from countries all over the world.
"The cartel had amassed one of the greatest collections of horses we've ever seen," Witman said. "They're as good as it gets."
Although many of the horses had names like Big Daddy Cartel and Coronita Cartel, those names refer to the horse's lineage as a descendant of noted sire Corona Cartel and not the alleged activities of its previous owners, said Debbie Schauf, the executive director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association.
"That's just a fluke coincidence," Schauf said. "Any offspring of his has 'cartel' in the name because they want to show the blood line."
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy