Two California women arrested in ‘historic’ seizure for smuggling US$2.6 million in cash

“MX” for Borderland Beat

The seizure occurred at El Chaparral Port of Entry, south of San Ysidro
Two women from California were arrested on Saturday for attempting to smuggle over US$2.6 million in cash into Tijuana from San Ysidro. They are currently being investigated for their ties to organized crime groups in the area. The women went into Mexico driving their 2019 white Cherokee SUV with California license plates at around 10 p.m. local time.
Mexican border agents sent the two to secondary inspection after they drove through the “nothing to declare” lane. According to Isaias Bertin Sandoval, head of Baja California’s secretary of federal public safety, the cash was found hidden inside the vehicle. Per Mexican federal law, anyone bringing more than US$10,000 in cash into Mexico must declare it to border inspectors.
Federal agents said that this cash seizure carried out by the Tax Administration System (SAT), the Mexican Army and the National Guard was “historic”. On Monday, Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime Investigation (SEIDO) arrived in Tijuana to investigate the case.
News of the seizure was first reported by Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias, a border news outlet in Tijuana. They said that the women smuggled 13 packages filled with cash in several suitcases. There were 87 more packages hidden throughout the entire car. All of the currency was in U.S. dollars.
Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, the head of security research programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican studies at UC San Diego, said that the drug trafficking organization involved in this cash smuggling scheme is not suffering financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of all these organizations, some are in better places than others to manage crisis during a global pandemic. Clearly, that route doesn’t have liquidity issues,” she said. Farfán-Méndez also said that she did not discard the possibility that U.S. authorities were involved in the seizure.
“Either you have the worst possible luck in the world or there was some info coming from the U.S. that ‘hey, this car may have bulk cash in it,’” said Farfán-Méndez.
In January, Mexican authorities seized US$500,000 in cash from a woman who was smuggling the currency into Tijuana from the Otay Port of Entry.
The two California women were not identified by press time. The Mexican justice system does not permit authorities from releasing the full names of the suspects or defendants in criminal trials. Moreover, they blur the eyes of suspects during their booking photos that are eventually released to the press. Their names will only be revealed if they are convicted of a crime. This is done with the intention of preserving presumption of innocence.
Background
According to Agencias Fronterizas Tijuana, the day the seizure was carried out, Baja California registered 11 homicides: 8 in Tijuana; 2 in Ensenada; and 1 in Tecate. The state government also issued 8 arrest warrants statewide against some of Baja California’s most-wanted suspects.
In total, more than 1,300 homicides have been committed in Baja California during the first six months of the administration of Governor Jaime Bonilla Valdez. As reported by Borderland Beat, Tijuana is the city with the highest homicide rate. The rest of the homicides are spread out in other municipalities: Ensenada, Mexicali, Tecate and Rosarito. Authorities say the COVID-19 outbreak has not slowed down drug-related homicides.
Borderland Beat reported in May that Baja California governor Jaime Bonilla Valdez said that violence in his state was out of control. “We cannot control this situation. It has been a very bad start of the year. Although this is happening in other parts of Mexico, what worries us is Baja California”, he said.
Since 2015, the state of Baja California has been a major battleground between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel. The local Tijuana Cartel (CAF) is reportedly backing the CJNG to fight Sinaloans in the area.