Zetas cartel associates plead guilty to bribery charge

AUSTIN (AP) — Three Mexican citizens pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempting to bribe a federal judge who was hearing a case on how the Zetas drug cartel laundered money by trading in American racehorses.

Franceso Colorado Cessa, son Francisco Colorado Cessa Jr. and business associate Ramon Segura Flores 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 money laundering, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said in a statement. The men will remain in custody until sentencing.

Segura and Cessa’s son tried to arrange the bribe to get a more lenient sentence for the senior Cessa, who already had been convicted for his role in spending nearly $25 million to buy and sell 500 racehorses to launder drug money. The FBI and Austin police set up a sting after recording conversations between Cessa, 53, and his son at the Bastrop County Jail in which they discussed how to bribe Sparks.

A confidential source made contact with Segura and introduced him to two undercover agents, an FBI agent and an Austin police officer, who said they could deliver the bribe. But they said it needed to be $1.2 million and include a $25,000 fee for the undercover agents. One of the agents said he could deliver a $250,000 down payment to the judge during a game of golf.

Cessa Jr., 25, relayed the plan to his father by telephone and they agreed to go forward with it, the complaint said.

Segura, 52, and Cessa Jr. demanded a signal from the judge, through use of a code word during sentencing, to prove that he had accepted the bribe before they would make a down payment. The undercover agents suggested “golf,” a word Sparks did not use while sentencing Cessa.

On the day of the sentencing, Segura testified for more than an hour and his attorneys presented extensive documentary and videotaped evidence about Cessa’s good deeds as a businessman in Veracruz. Sparks, who was unaware of the plan to bribe him, passed down the maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and federal agents arrested Cessa Jr. and Segura a few hours later.

The scheme to take proceeds from drug sales in the United States and launder them by purchasing American quarter horses was led by Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of the Zetas cartel’s two leaders. A jury in Texas found Morales guilty in May of investing $16 million of drug money in the buying, training and racing of horses across the Southwest.

There was no indication any other defendant in the horse racing case was involved in the attempt to bribe Sparks.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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