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April 12, 2010

SAN BENITO SISTERS SENTENCED FOR ATTEMPTING TO  SMUGGLE ALMOST $400,000

(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) B Sisters Zu-Haidy Berenice Torres, 31, and Karla Judith Torres, 25, have been sentenced to 24 months in prison for evading a currency reporting requirement in their attempt to conceal $399,113 in a vehicle while trying to take the money into Mexico, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. The sisters, both residents of San Benito, Texas, were convicted on Jan. 7, 2010, following their guilty pleas. U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen handed down the sentences today and also ordered the forfeiture of the $399,113 to the United States.

On Aug. 12, 2009, Karla Judith Torres drove a Ford expedition with her sister riding as a passenger and approached the southbound inspection lanes at the Los Indios International Bridge in Brownsville. Appearing nervous, the sisters were referred by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to secondary inspection, at which time they were asked to declare weapons and or money in excess of $10,000. They denied possession of any weapons, currency or other monetary instrument in excess of $10,000 and did not complete the appropriate customs forms for taking currency in excess of $10,000 outside the county.

A search of their purses by CBP officers resulted in the discovery of five packages of currency. Zu-Haidy Torres then informed agents that more currency was hidden under a rear seat of the vehicle. A total of nine more packages were found under the rear seat for a total of 14 packages of U.S. currency, containing a total of $399,113. The women were referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for further investigation.

Karla Torres gave a statement declaring that an individual in Mexico she knew only as Gordo paid her $5,000 to go to Houston to pick up the currency, and conceal and smuggle it into Mexico. She was directed to a Wal-Mart parking lot in Houston where an unknown Hispanic individual gave her a black briefcase with the currency. Once she got to the Rio Grande Valley, and in preparation to smuggling the currency into Mexico, she asked her sister, Zu-Haidy Torres, for assistance in smuggling the currency to Mexico. The sisters then concealed the currency in the vehicle and in the lining of their purses. Zu-Haidy Torres told agents she believed the money was drug proceeds.

In addition to the money forfeiture and the prison term, Judge Hanen imposed a three-year-term of supervised release as to each defendant. During the first two years of that term, each must perform 100 hours of community service. The court has permitted both to remain on bond and ordered to surrender themselves to begin serving their sentence on May 13, 2010.

The investigation leading the charges and ultimately the conviction of both women was initiated by CBP officers and continued by ICE agents. Assistant United States Attorney Angel Castro prosecuted the case.

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