SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A year-long investigation uncovered a large-scale illegal drug and gambling ring in East Texas.
Two Smith County men, Omar Bonilla and Renault Kay, were the alleged organizers of illegal horse racing and gambling. The men,
, are facing numerous federal charges. According to court records, the track was in northeastern Smith County off County Road 3104. Undercover agents reported witnessing hundreds of people betting on horse races there.
A YouTube video captured, what FBI agents say, was a typical weekend at Carril El Tarahumara, the illegal horse racing track in Smith County. Monday, that track sat quiet and still.
"We have to go... what I like to say is, 'cut the cancer out from the source,' if we want to do any good in combating the drug crimes,'" said Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith.
According to federal court documents, the Smith County horse races "were attended by a number of high-level Mexican drug dealers from East Texas, Dallas and Houston," and "up to $40,000 cash wagered on a single horse race."
According to the Texas Racing Commission, there are an estimated 50 illegal horse racing tracks in the state. The state misses out on $70,000- $500,000 per illegal track per year in licensing fees. The racing commission says illegal racing not only hurts the tracks and horsemen involved in legal racing, but it raises safety concerns for spectators, jockeys and the animals.
Seven years ago, a North Texas man was murdered at an unlicensed horse racing track in East Texas.
"We have no idea why they were down there except to watch a horse race," said former Sheriff J.B. Smith in July of 2007.
Authorities never arrested anyone in the murder. The track owner said no gambling took place at those races. Horse racing is legal at unlicensed facilities as long as gambling is not involved. However, the commission says the horses themselves can also be in danger since there is no veterinary care on site. They add that, "it's becoming more common for unlicensed tracks to administer illegal street drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, to the animals." According to the federal criminal complaint, the horses at the Carril El Tarahumara, "were sometimes administered illegal drugs to enhance their performance," and were reportedly observed foaming at the mouth.
While authorities say they've busted six people for the illegal activity at one track in East Texas, there are still many more illegal tracks out there waiting to be found. The entire investigation into the drug-ring and illegal horse racing came to light after a Smith County Sheriff's deputy was arrested for dealing drugs out of his patrol car in July 2013. Former deputy
to the charges and was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison. Jones' cooperation helped lead to the arrests of the six people charged in the narcotics bust.