Man who hid $25,000 in toolbox gets year in prison

The federal courthouse at Bentsen Tower, located on Bicentennial Boulevard in McAllen, is seen in this August 2018 file photo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A Mexican man who attempted to travel into Mexico without declaring a large bulk of cash hidden in his vehicle will serve a year in federal prison, court records show.

Cesar Edgardo Contreras-Cruz stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane Monday for a sentencing hearing related to his October 2018 arrest at a port of entry after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered a large amount of cash hidden in his vehicle.

Crane handed Contreras-Cruz a 12-month prison sentence and a $100 fine, records show.

CBP officers arrested Contreras-Cruz, 21, after a secondary inspection turned up cash in the man’s vehicle.

On Oct. 18, Contreras-Cruz, who was driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck, was attempting to enter Mexico through the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

“During the inspection, CBP officers received a negative declaration from Contreras-Cruz for firearms, ammunition or currency over $10,000,” the complaint against the man stated. “Contreras-Cruz declared $100 United States dollars.”

He was subsequently referred for a secondary inspection, during which: “CBP officers conducted a K9 search of the vehicle, and at this time Contreras-Cruz freely stated there was money concealed in the toolbox located in the bed of the pickup truck,” according to the record.

The record went on to state that CBP officers “discovered bundles of currency concealed underneath a mat inside the toolbox.”

In all, Contreras-Cruz was found with approximately $25,000.

After his detainment, Contreras-Cruz spoke with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents, and admitted to knowingly trying to cross into Mexico with more than $10,000 in currency.

He also made mention of past instances of smuggling bulk cash into Mexico.

“Contreras-Cruz further stated that he knew the money originated from illicit activities and is aware of the currency reporting requirements,” the complaint stated. “Contreras-Cruz specifically concealed the currency to avoid the currency reporting requirements.”

In December, the man pleaded guilty to one count of bulk cash smuggling, court records show.

Contreras-Cruz, who does not have legal status to remain in the country, will likely be deported upon completion of his prison sentence.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, it is not illegal to carry more than $10,000, but it is a federal offense not to declare currency or monetary instruments totaling $10,000 or more to a CBP officer upon entry, or exit from the U.S. or to conceal it with intent to evade reporting requirements.