A U.S. federal judge sentenced 22-year-old Mexican national Juan Pablo Hoyos Avila, who was a student at Incarnate Word Academy in San Antonio, Texas, to five years in federal prison for attempting to smuggle $879,695 in cash from the U.S. to Mexico. The judge ordered to forfeiture his assets and placed him under supervised released for three years after completes his prison term. Court documents show that on July 16, 2018, Hoyos Avila and Mexican national Rafael Gabriel Martinez Leal were arrested while attempting to fly from the San Antonio International Airport to Mexico with US$879,695 that were undeclared.The money was packaged inside a suitcase and in a cardboard package. Hoyos Avila told investigators that he was paid 3.5 percent of the U.S. currency he smuggled, and that he would smuggle about US$ 1 million per week (that is about US$35,000 per week).
Per U.S. custom laws, people must declare if they have over US$10,000 in currency, coin and/or specific monetary instruments when leaving or entering the country. In addition, people traveling together cannot divide the amount to avoid declaring it. Investigators said that cartel members have recruited students many times to smuggle currency into Mexico for them.
According to Mexican media outlets, Martinez Leal is a relative of the Governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca. The Governor confirmed after the arrest that Martinez Leal is the cousin of his wife Mariana Gómez de García Cabeza de Vaca. However, he stated that there was no “direct relationship” between the two. In addition, Martinez Leal is the cousin of José Ramón Gómez Leal, a member of the government-transition team in Tamaulipas under Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Co-conspirator Rafael Gabriel Martinez Leal with the Governor of Tamaulipas, relative of his
“This sentence represents the seriousness of these crimes and serves as an appropriate punishment for Juan Pablo Hoyos Avila. The smuggling of bulk cash often contributes to the cartel violence that damages communities on both sides of the border”, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden said at his sentencing.
Last month, Martinez Leal was sentenced to 5.8 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Martinez Leal said that he had been smuggling cash from the U.S. to Mexico since 2017 with Hoyos Avila. They often flew back to Mexico from San Antonio in a private aircraft.