Edinburg woman sentenced for smuggling $71k

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 — When U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers noticed the woman’s shaking hands, they knew something wasn’t right.

During an outbound inspection of a taxi cab’s passenger, CBP officials discovered a woman in possession of more than $71,000 in cash, which was ultimately bound for Monterrey, Mexico, court records show.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Karla Vasquez-Alvarado to a 10-month federal prison sentence in connection with a Jan. 23 incident at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, according to the complaint filed against the woman.

That January day, Vasquez-Alvarado, 28, was a passenger in a taxi cab headed into Mexico that was subsequently referred for a secondary inspection.

CBP officers spoke with Vasquez-Alvarado, who said she was coming from a residence in McAllen and headed to Mexico to visit her grandmother.

“(The officer) noticed (Vasquez-Alvarado) seemed to be uncomfortable during the stop,” the complaint read.

When the officer asked her for identification  documents, she handed over a lawful permanent resident card.

“(The officer) noticed (Vasquez-Alvarado) was shaking and nervous while handing over the card,” the complaint stated.

Afterward, the CBP officer searched a green backpack and purse in her possession and found a total of $71,700 in U.S. currency.

Initially, Vasquez-Alvarado declined to speak to Homeland Security Investigations agents, but she eventually agreed to speak, waiving her rights.

“During the interview of (Vasquez-Alvarado), she admitted she was transporting money south into Mexico, and the money was from illegal drug sales,” the complaint stated. “(She) admitted to (the officers) she knew it was illegal to transport large amounts of money from the United States into Mexico undeclared.”

She pleaded guilty to the sole charge against her on March 29 and is expected to receive as many as 16 months in prison for the smuggling attempt.

Upon completion of her 10-month prison term, Vasquez-Alvarado could potentially lose her legal permanent resident status as a result of her federal conviction.