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Jan. 24, 2012

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Attempting to Export $3.1 Million into Mexico Lands Several in Federal Prison

McALLEN, Texas – Twelve defendants who attempted to smuggle $3.1 million in U.S. currency concealed in luggage into Mexico have now been sentenced to federal prison, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.

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. All 13 passengers subsequently pleaded guilty and 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.

Today, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa sentenced Legal permanent resident aliens Pedro Sanchez-Aviles, 45, residing in Atlanta, Ga., and Margarita Patricia Jones, 51, residing in Cartersville, Ga., to 28 and 21 months in prison, respectively. Mexican citizens Rene F. Espinoza-Borjas, 47, and Irma Echeverria-Vega, 52, and Marcial Santana-Aleman, 48, a Mexican citizen who is a legal permanent resident residing in Buford, Ga., have all remained in custody since there arrest on Sept. 26, 2010, and were sentenced to time served today. 

Judge Hinojosa also sentenced Maria Urieta, 50, and Leticia Urieta-Aguirre, 21, both of Smyrna, Ga., to 36 and 18 months in prison, respectively, at a hearing held yesterday. Bianca Tapia-Pineda, of Cartersville, Ga., Alejandro Camacho, originally of Norcross, Ga., and Elizabeth Cornejo, also of Norcross, Ga., will serve six months in prison, while Jobanni and Gabriella Hernandez, both of Atlanta, Ga., each received a sentence of 18 months confinement.  

In addition to their terms of imprisonment, defendants were sentenced to two years supervised release.

On Jan. 23, 2012, Jonathan Nathan Gaona, 21, of Yadkinville, N.C., failed to appear for sentencing yesterday and is a fugitive. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Kristen Rees and Casey MacDonald. CBP and ICE investigated.