When former Dallas Observer Editor Joe Tone left the paper in 2015, he told us it was to work on a book about how a young FBI agent helped take down the Zetas drug cartel. Turns out, he wasn't kidding. He not only wrote a book, due to be published by Random House imprint One World, he's now optioned the movie rights. (Editor's note: Whoever had "really writing a book" in the office betting pool, please come settle up.)
Anonymous Content, a production and management company, optioned the as-yet untitled book and the story it's based upon, "The Rookie and the Zetas: How the Feds Took Down a Drug Cartel's Horse-Racing Empire," which Tone wrote for the Observer in April 2015. Anonymous Content is the production company behind the Academy Award winning movies Spotlight and The Revenant and the TV series Mr. Robot and HBO's True Detective, among others.
Tone, forever now to be known around here as "Hollywood Joe" to differentiate him from the Observer's current editor, also named Joe, says he has already spoken with the production company and writer Mauricio Katz, picked to write the screenplay.
"It's a long road from here to nervous-puking on a red carpet, but it's hard not to be excited," Hollywood Joe said. "It's a great, layered, nuanced story, and Mauricio and Anonymous are smart, savvy filmmakers. I think they could pull it off, and I think it could be great, and I think I left my couch in the new Joe's office. Is it still there? It's an underrated napping couch. Anyway, I'm thrilled, and thankful to the Observer, One World, Anonymous and everyone else involved."
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Tone's story detailed the case of young FBI agent Scott Lawson, a Tennessean assigned to the Texas border in Laredo, who began following up on a tip that the Zetas, a violent group of former Mexican soldiers who had become enforcers for the powerful Gulf Cartel, were buying mares and foals in the U.S. From the story:
Lawson had learned something else about the Zetas: Like their fellow Mexican gangsters, they were obsessed with horses, prone to crowding around dirt tracks to bet on two-horse sprints. They were also, even by cartel standards, wild and unpredictable, and known to move brazenly across the Texas border, establishing safe houses in Laredo where hitmen awaited instructions to cross into Mexico and kill. That they wanted to race American quarter horses, the quicker and more compact cousins of the thoroughbred, wasn't as ludicrous as it sounded.
Tracking the trail of horse purchases across ranches and race tracks throughout the Southwest, agents uncovered a money laundering operation led by José Treviño, "the younger brother of Miguel 'Z-40' Treviño Morales — aka the 40th Zeta, the bloodthirsty commander of Mexico's rising cartel and one of the most wanted men in the Americas."
The feds would eventually would seize 400 horses from a ranch in Oklahoma and secure convictions of José Treviño and three others on money laundering and other charges.