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Border security task force seizes more than $1.3 million at cargo facility

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - More than $1.3 million was seized by a newly established border security task force on Thursday from a vehicle that arrived by ship from Philadelphia. The money was seized by the following agencies comprising the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST): U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), San Juan Police Department (SJPD) and Puerto Rico Ports Authority (PRPA).

On April 14, CBP officers were conducting a routine inspection of containers and vehicles onboard the cargo ship La Reina, when they discovered about $1.5 million concealed within the door panels of a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The cargo was initially inspected using the Heiman Cargo Vision X-Ray scanner (HCV). Ultimately, the total amount discovered and seized was $1,349,660.

"The seizure of the exorbitant amount of money, as well as others in the past, are clear proof of how the newly established BEST task force is working to detect contraband arriving in Puerto Rico from international and domestic ports," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Puerto Rico. "We will continue working with our federal, state, and local partners to identify and seize incoming contraband regardless of its origin, and BEST is helping us to do just that."

In response to a surge in cross border crime, ICE has partnered with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement counterparts to create the BEST initiative, a series of multi-agency teams developed as a comprehensive approach to identifying, disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations posing significant threats to border security.

The teams are designed to increase information sharing and collaboration among the agencies, combating this threat on both sides of the border. In select locations, BEST teams have been established at critical seaports to address smuggling and other criminal activity at maritime ports of entry.

The BEST team incorporates personnel from ICE, CBP, U.S. Coast Guard, PRPD, SJPD, PRPA and Hacienda, along with other key federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies.

ICE will continue to establish new BEST teams in areas where transnational criminal organizations exploit vulnerabilities along the nation's border and at critical seaports. These new teams will focus on all aspects of the enforcement process, from interdiction to prosecution and removal.

The goal of the expansion is to strengthen the program's ability to dismantle the leadership and supporting infrastructure of the criminal organizations responsible for perpetrating violence and illegal activity along our borders and in the nation's interior.

This ICE HSI investigation is ongoing.