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March 4, 2011


(McALLEN, Texas) - The final passenger aboard a commercial bus bound for Mexico charged in a multi-defendant case involving the smuggling of more than $3 million in U.S. currency  in air mattresses was convicted today after pleading guilty to failing to declare the cash prior to leaving the United States, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

Marcial Santana-Aleman, 47, a Mexican citizen who is a legal permanent resident residing in Buford, Ga., pleaded guilty today before Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa. On Sept. 26, 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) agents stopped a southbound commercial passenger bus at the Hidalgo, Texas, Port of Entry. A search of passenger luggage resulted in the discovery of $3.19 million dollars sealed in air mattresses hidden in luggage. With today’s guilty plea, all 13 passengers charged have admitted to intentionally concealing the currency in an attempt to evade the statutory requirement to declare sums of money above $10,000 before leaving the United States with the intention of taking the currency to Mexico. Santana-Aleman and all of his co-defendants face a maximum punishment of five years in federal prison without parole and a fine of up to $250,000. Additionally, all 13 defendants have agreed to forfeit their interest in the $3.19 million dollars seized to the United States. Judge Hinojosa has set sentencing for June 2, 2011. Santana- Aleman is in custody and will remain in custody pending his sentencing.

Eight other defendants - Bianca Tapia-Pineda, 20, of Cartersville, Ga.; Jobanni Hernandez, 19, and Gabriela Hernandez, 18, both of Atlanta, Ga.; Alejandro Camacho, 22, of Norcross, Ga., at the time of his arrest; Elizabeth Cornejo, 21, of Norcross, Ga.; Leticia Urieta-Aguirre, 20, and Maria Urieta, 49, both of Smyrna, Ga.; and Jonathan Nathan Gaona, 20, of Yadkinville, N.C., - pleaded guilty to bulk cash smuggling on Feb. 18, 2011, and are pending sentencing on March 25, 2011. All eight defendants have been permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing.

Rene F. Espinoza-Borjas, 46, a Mexican citizen who entered the United States with a B1/B2 visa; Pedro Sanchez-Aviles, 44, a Mexican citizen who is a legal permanent resident residing in Atlanta, Ga.; Margarita Patricia Jones, 50, a Mexican citizen who is a legal permanent resident residing in Cartersville, Ga.; and Irma Echeverria-Vega, 51, a Mexican citizen who entered the United States with a B1/B2 visa, pleaded guilty to the same charge yesterday, March 3, 2011. These defendants, all of whom are in custody, are set to be sentenced on June 2, 2011.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Rees is prosecuting the case.


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