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03/20/2009

Undeclared U.S. currency was concealed in spare tire in pick-up truck headed into Mexico

Undeclared U.S. currency was concealed in spare tire in pick-up truck headed into Mexico

El Paso BEST operation results in nearly $300,000 cash seizure
El Paso BEST operation results in nearly $300,000 cash seizure

EL PASO, Texas -U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, and other members of the local Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) intercepted nearly $300,000 concealed in a spare tire last week from a Mexico-bound vehicle.

The ICE-led BEST members conducted a joint southbound operation at the Bridge of the Americas about 11 p.m. March 17. CBP officers stopped a 2006 Chevrolet pick-up truck driven by Gualberto Rivera-Carrasco. The driver told the CBP officers he had nothing to declare regarding exporting firearms, ammunition or monetary instruments more than $10,000. Officers further questioned Rivera-Carrasco, and inspected his truck. An X-ray scan of the truck's spare tire revealed anomalies inside the tire, and officers ultimately discovered 26 bundles of U.S. currency wrapped in black tape.

ICE special agents arrested Rivera-Carrasco, 26, a Garland, Texas resident, and his passenger Julio Rivera-Carrasco, 22, of Durango, Mexico. Both men remain at the El Paso County Detention Facility.

"ICE's partnership with other law enforcement agencies, such as CBP, is critical to identifying and seizing proceeds of criminal activity," said Julio M. Velez, acting special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "These partnerships allow us to better disrupt the cash flow and illegal export of arms and munitions destined to the Mexican drug cartels."

ICE is charged with enforcing a wide array of laws, including those related to securing the border and combating criminal smuggling. BEST members routinely conduct joint operations with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies at the ports of entry to prevent U.S. currency, weapons, and technology from being illegally exported into Mexico.

Currency or monetary instruments may be exported. However, for quantities more than $10,000, the currency must be declared during inspection. The currency may be seized and/or the individual arrested if the declaration is not made. The petitioner must prove that the source and intended use of the currency is legitimate before the seized items can be returned.

BEST is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE-led national initiative created along the U.S.-Mexico border. The BEST task force in El Paso, one of 11 such teams nationwide, was formed in October 2006.

El Paso's BEST members include: ICE; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the U.S. Department of State; the El Paso County Sheriff's Office; the El Paso Police Department; and the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas.

Officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are collocated in the task force to share information. This close coordination among law enforcement agencies also helps identify and eliminate cross-border criminal organizations, such as alien smuggling networks, and their supporting infrastructures that sustain them.

In the course of its work, the BEST team develops information that helps it identify "drop houses," warehouses and hotels known or suspected to harbor illegal aliens and narcotics in the area.

Since it was formed, the El Paso BEST team has identified several alien and narcotic smuggling organizations with ties to violent prison and street gangs on both sides of the border.