DrugsOrganised Crime

Agents Seize $27 Million In U.S. Currency Inside Boxes Bound For St. Thomas

As a result of a joint investigation between U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Puerto Rico Police Department, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, CBP officers seized undeclared currency totaling at least 27 million dollars. The currency was found inside boxes bound for St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

CBP officers at Pier 10 in San Juan conducted an outbound cargo inspection on board the Motor Vessel (MV) Norma H II Voyage 818. During that inspection, a CBP K-9 alerted on pallets containing home moving boxes destined for St. Thomas. CBP officers opened one of the boxes and discovered U.S. currency wrapped in vacuum-sealed packages. Further inspection of the pallets revealed a total of 34 cargo boxes containing additional undeclared currency. CBP seized the currency pursuant to bulk cash smuggling laws and based on the failure to declare the currency.

This is an ongoing collaborative investigation conducted by CBP, the DEA Caribbean Field Division, HSI San Juan, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

“This seizure is a clear indication of the success of our joint investigative efforts,” said W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico’s geographical location, along with its status as a territory of the United States, makes it an ideal target for Transnational Criminal Organizations seeking to import narcotics into the Continental United States and facilitate the repatriation of their drug proceeds. To eradicate this threat, we will continue to aggressively attack their drug smuggling and money laundering operations – depriving them of their illegal merchandise, their profits, and a safe haven.”

“This is without a doubt a historic money seizure in the Caribbean Region. Most likely more than one Transnational Criminal Organization is involved and seriously bleeding at this very moment. We will not let our guard down, and we will continue our joint efforts between Federal and state agencies without rest. Inter-agency efforts have been excellent and we’ll continue to achieve great results,” stated DEA Caribbean Division Special Agent in Charge A.J. Collazo.

“Legal currency can be transported if properly declared under U.S. law. Transnational Criminal Organizations seek to conceal proceeds and move it as part of their criminal activities,” indicated Gregory Álvarez, CBP Director of Field Operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “We remain committed to working with other federal and local law enforcement partners to detect and deter smuggling attempts throughout the Caribbean.”

“In recent years, the smuggling of bulk currency has become a preferred method for drug trafficking organizations and other criminal enterprises to move illicit proceeds across our borders,” said Iván J. Arvelo, special agent in charge for HSI San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “This seizure is proof that HSI remains vigilant and that, along with our partners in the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force, we will continue using our robust investigative authorities to identify, investigate, and apprehend those involved in bulk cash smuggling,” added Arvelo.

In addition to the law enforcement partners described above, these successful efforts, including the drug and money seizures described below, would not be possible without the full support of the United States Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CBP’s Caribbean Air and Marine Branch, Puerto Rico’s Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and JIATF-South.

The Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF) is a multi-agency OCDETF Strike Force operating in the District of Puerto Rico. CCSF signatory agencies include the DEA, HSI, FBI, CGIS, USMS, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Pérez Bouret is the Chief of the Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Vanessa Bonhomme is the Deputy Chief of the TOC Section and the Lead CCSF Prosecutor.