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Contraband
02/07/2013

Mexican woman pleads guilty to smuggling heroin at Houston airport

HOUSTON – A Mexican woman pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling nearly two kilograms of heroin in her luggage when she arrived at George Bush-Intercontinental Airport (IAH) from Ecuador, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This investigation was conducted jointly by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Yessica Chanel Cabanillas-Torres, 21, of Sonora, Mexico, pleaded guilty Feb. 7 to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, before U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller. At the hearing, Cabanillas-Torres admitted that on Oct. 4, 2012, she arrived at IAH as a passenger aboard a flight from Quito, Ecuador. Her ticket indicated she was continuing her travel through Houston to Newark, N.J. Upon her arrival at IAH, CBP officers questioned Cabanillas-Torres about her visit to the United States and examined her and her luggage for prohibited items or contraband.

During this inspection, she presented herself, along with two hard-sided suitcases, to CBP officers for examination. Officers removed the contents and noticed the empty suitcases seemed to be unusually heavy. Officers discovered anomalies along the inner frame of each bag when they X-rayed the two suitcases. Based on these anomalies and the unusual weight of the suitcases, officers drilled into the two suitcases. They discovered a brown powdery substance within the walls of each suitcase, which field tested positive for heroin.

Officers then dismantled one suitcase and found several small bundles of heroin inside weighing 1.2 kilograms. Officers sent the second suitcase intact to the CBP forensic laboratory to be disassembled to remove the suspected heroin inside. The second suitcase also contained bundles of heroin. The total amount of heroin found in both suitcases was 1.934 kilograms (4.2 lbs.) with 82.7 percent purity.

Cabanillas-Torres indicated she was paid $4,000 by an individual in Mexico to transport luggage from Quito to Newark. She said she did not know the identity of the person in Newark to whom she was supposed to deliver the luggage. But she knew the luggage contained drugs, and she intended to deliver these suitcases to another person in the U.S.

Judge Miller set for sentencing for May 17, at which time Cabanillas-Torres faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life imprisonment, and a possible $10 million fine. She will remain in custody pending that hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur R. Jones, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.