Updated 8:15 p.m.
The cousin of the Tamaulipas governor’s wife was arrested early Monday morning in San Antonio on a bulk-cash smuggling charge after allegedly attempting to smuggle nearly $900,000 to Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection described the foiled currency attempt as “among the largest single seizure of unreported currency in the Houston Field Office,” according to a news release. The Houston office includes San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.
The arrest and Tuesday arraignment of 19-year-old Rafael Gabriel Martínez Leal was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News.
Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca’s spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Martínez is a cousin of Mariana Gómez de García Cabeza de Vaca, the governor’s wife.
The McAllen Memorial High School graduate has served as governor of the border state since October 2016, and said in a Spanish-language statement regarding Martínez’s arrest, “allow me to clarify that there is no direct relationship” between himself and his in-law.
Martínez is also a cousin of José Ramón Gómez Leal, according to Mexican media reports. Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador plans to name Gómez Leal — who is Cabeza de Vaca’s wife’s brother — a federal government representative in Tamaulipas upon taking office in December.
The arrest of Martínez and 19-year-old co-defendant Juan Pablo Hoyos Ávila — both Mexican nationals — was the result of an anonymous tip CBP received at 6:45 p.m. Sunday that a private plane was going to be smuggling a large amount of currency from San Antonio International Airport between 7 and 8 p.m. that same day, according to court documents and information provided by CBP.
CBP agents inspected the Monterrey-bound plane and discovered eight sealed boxes that had pictures of a fan. One of the boxes contained several bundles wrapped in duct tape, in which $879,099 of currency was concealed, according to the arrest affidavit.
Per federal law, travelers carrying more than $10,000 in currency in or out of the United States must report it, which neither Martínez nor Hoyos did.
Hoyos subsequently admitted to working with Martínez since January 2018 to smuggle U.S. currency to Mexico, the affidavit states. He said Martínez pays most of the rent for the San Antonio apartment where Hoyos lives and stores money received “from different individuals,” and Martínez then flies the money to Mexico via private plane. Hoyos described the money as “‘something like undeclared case or drug money.’”
“Martínez stated that he gets paid 3.5 percent of the U.S. currency smuggled … and that he smuggles approximately 1 million dollars a week,” according to the affidavit.
Martínez remains in federal custody and will return to court July 26 for a detention hearing in which a federal judge will determine whether he will set bond.
His attorney Steven Redgate could not be reached for comment.
” … each person, like every citizen, must take responsibility for the acts that he or she commits,” Cabeza de Vaca said in his statement. “And if in this case the young man committed a crime, he should be held accountable and be judged by the law.”