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Sept. 29, 2010

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17 pieces of luggage found to contain total of $3.1 million in undeclared currency wrapped in air mattresses

(McALLEN, Texas) – Fourteen passengers aboard a tour bus bound for Mexico have been arrested and charged for knowingly conspiring to evade currency transaction reporting requirements of $3.1 million in U.S. currency concealed in luggage, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today along with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton.

“This seizure of $3.1 million in undeclared currency and 14 arrests, the largest currency seizure by CBP in Fiscal Year 2010, is a magnificent achievement and serves as a validation of our enhanced outbound enforcement effort, which includes not only CBP officers and agents but also ICE-Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents,” said Bersin.

Fourteen passengers aboard a tour bus - seven U.S. citizens and seven Mexican nationals - were arrested on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, by CBP officers at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry after an intensive inspection of the tour bus resulted in the discovery of 17 pieces of luggage - each containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. currency. In all 17 pieces of luggage, the cash was found wrapped in deflated air mattresses. After further investigation by ICE-HSI agents, a criminal complaint was filed on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in McAllen charging all 14 with conspiracy to knowingly conceal more than $10,000 in currency in an attempt to transport the currency to Mexico while evading currency reporting requirements or bulk cash smuggling. The currency totaling $3.1 million in cash was seized by CBP officers.

“This seizure puts smugglers on notice,” said Morton. “ICE and CBP are working shoulder to shoulder to deny criminal organizations money they use to further their illicit activities and threaten public safety.”

The fourteen passengers arrested and charged are:

U.S. Citizens:

Bianca Tapia-Pineda                           (YOB 1990)
Jobanni Hernandez                             (YOB 1991)
Gabriella Hernandez                           (YOB 1992)
Alejandro Camacho                            (YOB 1988)
Elizabeth Cornejo                                (YOB 1989)
Leticia Urieta-Aguirre                         (YOB 1990)
Jonathan Nathan Gaona                     (YOB 1990)

Mexican Citizens:

Rene Fernando Espinoza-Borjas         (YOB 1964)
Maria Urieta                                       (YOB 1962)
Marcial Santana-Aleman                    (YOB 1963)
Pedro Sanchez Aviles                          (YOB 1966)
Jacinto Magadan Cuevas                    (YOB 1970)
Margarita Patricia Jones                    (YOB 1960)
Irma Echeverria-Vega                        (YOB 1959)

All fourteen individuals made their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby in McAllen yesterday and have been ordered temporarily detained pending detention hearings scheduled for Oct. 1, 2010.

A charge of conspiracy to smuggle bulk currency out of the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release.

It is not a crime to carry more than $10,000, but it is a federal offense not to declare currency or monetary instruments totaling more than $10,000 or more to a CBP officer upon entry into or exit from the U.S. or to conceal it with the intent to evade reporting requirements. Failure to declare the currency may result in seizure of the currency and/or arrest. An individual may petition for the return of the currency seized by CBP officers, but the petitioner must prove that the source and intended use of the currency was legitimate.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.


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