U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers turned over an Ohio man they arrested to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents on Saturday for allegedly lying about the amount of money he was carrying when questioned by federal authorities.
CBP officers arrested Libious Asefa, 42, of Columbus, Ohio, at Washington Dulles International Airport after officers discovered $18,525 on Asefa's person and luggage. According to court records, officers offered Asefa multiple opportunities to amend his currency declaration; however, court records state that Asefa admitted orally and in writing to possessing only $12,500.
CBP routinely conducts random currency inspections of inbound and outbound travelers. There is no limit to how much currency travelers can import or export; however 31 U.S.C. 5316 requires travelers to declare amounts exceeding $10,000 in U.S. dollars or equivalent foreign currency.
"Failing to report the transportation of more than $10,000 into or out of the United States is smuggling," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Washington, D.C. "ICE works closely with CBP and our state, local and federal partners to ensure that those who attempt to smuggle currency in excess of $10,000 are identified, encountered and arrested."
CBP officers turned Asefa over to HSI special agents. CBP routinely works with HSI on a variety of cases with the primary responsibility of carrying out the initial seizure at a port of entry. HSI special agents conducted an in-depth interview of Asefa after his apprehension by CBP officers and presented the criminal matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia for prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia filed a criminal complaint against Asefa, charging him with making a false statement, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
"Travelers who lie when reporting their currency risk losing it and may face criminal charges," said Christopher Hess, CBP port director for the Port of Washington. "The easiest way to hold on to your currency is to report it. It's that simple." Asefa arrived at Dulles from Columbus, Ohio, and was stopped by CBP officers while boarding a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
According to court documents, CBP officers explained to Asefa the federal currency reporting requirement and had him read it. Once Asefa acknowledged that he understood the reporting requirement, CBP officers asked Asefa to write the amount of currency in his possession on the form and to initial the form. Asefa allegedly maintained that he possessed $12,500. Court records indicate that CBP officers discovered several envelopes that contained a combined $18,525.
CBP routinely conducts random inspection operations on arriving and departing passengers searching for narcotics, currency, weapons and other prohibited or illicit products.
In 2005, ICE partnered with CBP to launch Operation Firewall, a comprehensive law enforcement operation targeting criminal organizations involved in the smuggling of large quantities of U.S. currency. At U.S. ports-of-entry, ICE and CBP partner to combat cash smuggling and within the U.S., ICE works with state and local partners to identify and intercept smuggled bulk cash shipments being transported along domestic interstate highways.
Since its inception in 2005, Operation Firewall has resulted in more than 5,100 seizures totaling more than $494 million and the arrest of more than 1,000 individuals. These efforts include more 300 international seizures totaling more than $236 million and over 215 international arrests.