$3M in smuggled cash seized in Escondido

Posted at 3:28 PM, Aug 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-26 18:28:50-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. - Two men were arrested and more than $3 million in cash was seized in what is considered the largest-ever currency smuggling operation in the San Diego sector, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials announced Friday.

The arrests were made Tuesday afternoon in Escondido when a Border Patrol agent stopped a Kia Forte on West Country Club Lane after following the car on Interstate 15. The agent suspected that the driver was traveling in tandem with a Volkswagen Passat, which sped off as the Kia driver was being pulled over, according to the CPB.

Agents who searched the Kia, after a K-9 unit alerted them, discovered eight vacuum-sealed bundles of cash totaling $33,880 stashed in the car's center console. The 53-year-old man who was driving the Kia was arrested on suspicion of currency smuggling, officials said. He was described as a U.S. citizen, but his name was withheld.

More agents were called in to assist, and the Volkswagen Passat was found abandoned in a residential cul-de-sac near where the Kia was pulled over. Eight boxes found in the trunk of the VW contained $3.018 million in currency, according to the agency.

The driver, a 41-year-old Mexican national whose name was withheld, was found hiding in some nearby bushes and taken into custody. He was also arrested on suspicion of currency smuggling.

"This amount of money represents the largest currency seizure ever in the San Diego Sector," Chief Patrol Agent Richard Barlow said. "The hard work and perseverance demonstrated by the involved agents was essential for this outcome."

Photos provided by the Border Patrol showed the eight boxes stuffed in the trunk of the VW and dozens of bundles of $100 bills stacked on a table.

The suspects were turned over to Homeland Security investigators to face federal charges.