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, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson Tuesday. The 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).
On Sept. 26, 2010, CBP officers and ICE HSI agents stopped a southbound commercial passenger bus at the Hidalgo, Texas, Port of Entry. A search of passenger luggage revealed $3.19 million sealed in air mattresses hidden inside luggage. All 13 passengers subsequently pleaded guilty to intentionally concealing the currency with the intention of taking the currency to Mexico. The currency was concealed in an attempt to evade the statutory requirement to declare sums of money above $10,000 before leaving the United States.
On Jan. 24, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa sentenced Pedro Sanchez-Aviles, 45, residing in Atlanta, Ga., and Margarita Patricia Jones, 51, residing in Cartersville, Ga., both legal permanent resident aliens, 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 and legal permanent resident residing in Buford, Ga., have all remained in custody since their arrests on Sept. 26, 2010. They were sentenced Jan. 24 to time served.
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 Monday hearing. 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, the defendants were sentenced to two years supervised release.
On Jan. 23, Jonathan Nathan Gaona, 21, of Yadkinville, N.C., failed to appear for sentencing and is a fugitive. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Assistant U. S. Attorneys Kristen Rees and Casey MacDonald, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.