A man, his girlfriend and the woman’s daughter were arrested Sunday over allegations they tried to smuggle nearly $224,000 hidden inside their shoes, on their person, and in purses and fanny packs at the request of a Georgia man they only know as “Terror,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
CBP officers encountered Diana Moreno, a U.S. citizen born in 1978, her boyfriend, Carlos Adrian Marquez-Peroza, a Venezuelan national born in 1989, and her daughter, Yarely Saray Guadalupe Ortega-Moreno, a U.S. citizen born in 2001 at about 8:45 a.m. at the Falcon Dam Port of Entry as they tried to enter Mexico in a gray Mercedes Benz SUV with Georgia plates.
Moreno’s 3-year-old daugter was in the car as was Ortega’s boyfriend, who is not being identified because he was not charged with a crime and denied any knowledge of the alleged smuggling attempt, according to the criminal complaint.
During a primary inspection, CBP says that no one in the vehicle stated they had any money to declare and the inspecting officer referred the vehicle to a secondary inspection because of the large amount of luggage in the SUV.
It was there that CBP conducted a pat down on Marquez and found bundles of cash wrapped in black tape concealed in his fanny pack, socks and inside the insoles of his shoes that totaled $51,448, federal authorities say.
CBP also says an inspecting officer then turned their attention to Moreno and found a large amount of loose cash inside her purse and more hidden on her body and in the insoles of her shoes.
“A pat down of Moreno revealed she had eight (8) bundles of cash strapped around her abdominal area,” the complaint read. “Moreno was also found to be concealing another bundle of cash inside an orthopedic boot on her left leg.”
Officers also found more cash stitched into the sides or her purse, according to CBP.
In all, CBP says officers discovered a total of $104,800 in Moreno’s possession.
The inspecting officers also reported finding a large amount of cash inside Ortega’s fanny pack.
“A pat down of Ortega revealed she had loose cash concealed inside her bra, inside her leggings, and beneath the insoles of her shoes,” the complaint stated.
She had a total of $17,580 in her possession, CBP said in the complaint.
A search of the Mercedes Benz SUV also resulted in the discovery of an additional $10,000 hidden inside baby wipes and another $40,160 concealed inside diapers in a diaper bag, according to the complaint.
Following the searches, a CBP officer and a Homeland Security Investigations special agent interviewed Moreno, who said she often travels from Georgia to Mexico to visit her grandmother, who lives in central Mexico.
“Moreno stated an acquaintance of hers known only to her as ‘Terror’ asked her to transport money to Mexico for him since he knew Moreno routinely traveled to Mexico,” the complaint stated.
She also told CBP she knew about the currency reporting requirement but said that “Terror” reassured her it would be fine for each person traveling to take up to $10,000 into Mexico, authorities said in the complaint.
According to CBP, Moreno claimed not to know how much cash she was transporting and that she said she did not count the money.
“(The special agent) explained to Moreno that, even if she divided the money into $10,000 for each person to smuggle into Mexico, she still knew, based on her own statement, that she was conspiring to smuggle over $10,000 for ‘Terror,'” the complaint stated.
She then invoked her right to a lawyer and the interview was terminated.
Federal authorities say Ortega told them she went with her mom to Mexico to get an elective surgery performed and claimed the money in the fanny pack was going to be used to pay for that procedure.
She also said her mother gave her a bunch of money and told her to hide it while also claiming she didn’t know it was illegal to leave the country with more than $10,000 and not declaring it, according to the complaint.
“Ortega claimed she never noticed the signs clearly posted at the ports of entry stating the need to declare the exportation of over $10,000, even though she had crossed the border several times,” the complaint stated.
The federal investigators said Marquez told them that the money CBP found belonged to him and that he earned it through his work as a barber, as a landscaper and as a musician.
However, even though he said the money was his he had no idea how much money he had exactly, according to the complaint, which says he claimed not to know about currency reporting requirements.
All three are charged with bulk cash smuggling and made their initials appearances in McAllen federal court Tuesday morning in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia S. Medrano, who ordered all three temporarily held without bond pending probable cause and detention hearings scheduled for late Wednesday morning.