DALTON, Ga. — Three Dalton women face federal charges in Texas after they told officials they were paid thousands of dollars to smuggle almost $1.5 million in cash to Mexico City inside inflatable devices packed in five cardboard boxes.
One woman admitted to border patrol agents that she was told to bring along her 4-year-old daughter to “appear less suspicious” on the trip.
The women were arrested Wednesday at the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge in Hidalgo, Texas, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents searched an Omnibus Express commercial bus headed for Mexico, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Texas.
Leticia Pineda, 35; Lilia Camacho-Torres, 55; and Yeraldin Jimenez Ruiz, 22, each are charged with one count of bulk cash smuggling.
Rick Pauza, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Laredo, said the stop last week was a routine check for weapons, ammunition and cash in vehicles headed to Mexico.
According to the complaint, all passengers on the bus said they did not have more than $10,000. Under federal law, individuals traveling in or out of the country may carry more than $10,000, but they must declare it when crossing the border.
While looking through the passengers’ luggage, an inspector found cash inside an inflatable device when he probed it after opening a cardboard box.
Pineda, who claimed one of the cardboard boxes with $554,121 inside, told agents she was paid $3,500 to take an unknown amount of money from Atlanta to Mexico City, the complaint states. Pineda said she would be paid another $3,500 after the money was delivered.
Camacho-Torres claimed two of the boxes with $500,676 inside. She told officials she had gotten Ruiz, her relative, involved.
Camacho-Torres declined to answer more questions after she was read her Miranda rights, authorities said.
Ruiz also claimed two boxes, containing a total of $404,126. She said she was paid $1,000 to make the delivery and would be paid an additional $9,000 after the money was delivered, the complaint states.
Ruiz told officials that Camacho-Torres had made most of the travel arrangements and had the contact information for the Mexico City recipient.
Camacho-Torres encouraged Ruiz to bring along her 4-year-old daughter so the pair would appear less suspicious, the complaint says.
Ruiz said she and Camacho-Torres did not know anything about Pineda or her travel arrangements.
Pineda and Ruiz are U.S. citizens, and Camacho-Torres is a Mexican citizen. Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Antonio, declined to comment on whether Camacho-Torres had been in the United States legally.
Pruneda said she could not answer questions about the investigation because the case had been turned over to federal authorities for prosecution.
Capt. Ricky Swiney, with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Department, said they were aware of the arrests but had not been involved in the detention. Swiney did not respond to an email asking if the three women had arrest records in Whitfield County.
The women appeared in federal court Friday and are being held by U.S. marshals until their detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
This is the second time in less than a year that Dalton women have been detained for smuggling in Hidalgo. According to a news release on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site, agents found almost 7 1/2 pounds of cocaine hidden in a van battery after stopping two women on May 5.
The women, whose names were not given, both were from Dalton and were headed north out of Mexico, the news release said.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...