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06/30/2011

Mexican woman convicted of bulk-cash smuggling using stuffed toy animals

Woman tried to enter Mexico with more than $270,000 hidden in teddy bears and pillows

MCALLEN, Texas - A Mexican woman was convicted on Thursday of bulk-cash smuggling after stuffing more than $270,000 inside teddy bears and pillows, and trying to enter Mexico by bus. The conviction was announced by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) in conjunction with U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Jeanette Barraza-Galindo, 33, of Monterrey, Mexico, pleaded guilty June 30 before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane for attempting to smuggle into Mexico $277,556 in U.S. currency concealed in two teddy bears and two pillows.

At Thursday's court hearing, Barraza admitted that on March 1 she tried to evade currency-reporting requirements under the law by smuggling currency into Mexico. She admitted that she concealed $277,556 in cash inside two teddy bears and two pillows.

On March 1, Barraza was a passenger aboard a bus stopped by CBP at the Hidalgo, Texas, Port of Entry. The bus was heading southbound toward Mexico. CBP explained the currency-reporting requirements to all passengers. When CBP asked Barraza if she had more than $10,000 in cash to declare, Barraza gave a negative declaration even though she knew that she was carrying more than $10,000 in cash. However, CBP officers searched her teddy bears and pillows and found a total of $277,556 in cash in the stuffed toys.

As part of a plea agreement announced in court Thursday, Barraza is forfeiting to the United States the $277,556 in currency.

A federal criminal complaint was filed after Barraza's arrest, and a federal grand jury in McAllen, Texas, then indicted her for bulk-cash smuggling. Barraza has been held with no bond since her arrest. She will remain in custody pending her sentencing hearing scheduled for Sept. 8 before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Barraza faces a maximum of five years in prison without parole and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Sully, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.