U.S. citizen sentenced to 2 years in federal prison in laundering money case

A U.S. citizen accused of transporting more than $345,000 in cash from Houston headed to Mexico has been sentenced to more than two years in federal prison.

Esteban Garza, age and address unknown, admitted to working for a transnational criminal organization and helping transport large bundles of money that were “the proceeds of illicit criminal activity,” a federal criminal complaint states.

Garza appeared Thursday before U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr., who sentenced him to 25 months in federal prison to be followed to two years of supervised release.

On May 3, 2022, Garza pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to laundering monetary instruments, federal court documents reflect.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations received information in January 2022 that Garza was involved in transporting large bulks of U.S. currency, the federal criminal complaint states.

HSI agents began monitoring Garza’s travel patterns, and on Jan. 9, 2022, a white Jeep Cherokee, believed to be driven by Garza, was spotted returning to the Rio Grande Valley from Houston.

The agents started to follow the Jeep as it made its way on U.S. Expressway 77/83 in Harlingen and during surveillance “observed driving behaviors and indicators by Garza which are consistent with methods used by the criminal element to thwart law enforcement detection,” according to the federal criminal complaint.

Authorities followed Garza into Brownsville, where the agents along with a police K-9 from the Harlingen Police Department conducted a consented field interview with Garza in the parking lot of the Academy Sporting Goods Store in Brownsville.

The K-9 “conducted a free-air sniff of the vehicle which resulted in a positive K-9 alert,” the federal criminal complaint reads.

Garza gave the agents consent to search the Jeep, where they found 25 bundles of money wrapped in cellophane that were hidden inside the vehicle.

He admitted he was being paid to transport the money, the federal criminal complaint states.

According to a Feb. 1, 2022, federal indictment, $345,880 was found in Garza’s possession when he was arrested.

The indictment states Garza “did knowingly conduct and attempt to conduct the financial transactions affecting interstate and foreign commerce, to-wit: accepting U.S. currency while using his Jeep vehicle to conceal the currency during its transport to Brownsville, Texas, with the ultimate destination being Mexico.”

Garza was ordered to self-surrender on Feb. 17 to U.S. Marshals to begin his prison sentence.