EL PASO, Texas – Customs agents found nearly $1.9 million hidden in the doors of a sport utility vehicle at an El Paso port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday.
Agents found the cash, wrapped in bundles and hidden in the doors and car door of a 1992 Ford Expedition, after using a density meter to inspect the vehicle Monday morning, CBP spokesman Roger Maier said.
"The driver was a little bit nervous, a little bit shaky," Maier said. "So the agents used ... a density meter. It registered higher than normal, consistent with contraband. They started looking closer at the doors and spotted, not drugs which we were expecting, but currency."
Saul Sanchez, a 42-year-old Mexican national who was living legally in Kansas City, Kan., was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charges of currency smuggling. His 2-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, and his wife, also a legal permanent resident, were both released.
Cash in the amount of $10,000 or higher must be declared if an individual is entering or leaving the U.S.
Maier said the seizure — $1,858,085 — is among the largest ever cash seizures in El Paso. The largest was in 1997 when agents stopped a vehicle headed to Mexico and found $5,649,760.
"What we seize is generally in the five-figure range," Maier said. "Even the six-figure seizure is rare so getting something close to $2 million is extremely significant."
The seizure is nearly three times the amount of cash seized by El Paso agents in the last two years.
Maier said agents don't know where the money came from or was headed, but "the assumption would be the that it was the proceeds of some illegal activity."
Travis B. Kuykendall, director of the West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said the size of the seizure and that it was found in a vehicle heading into the United States make Monday's discovery highly unusual.
"The money usually goes south," Kuykendall said, adding the large cash sums caught going south are generally drug proceeds.
Kuykendall said it's possible that the money is from a legitimate business, given the legal complexities of declaring that much money being brought into the U.S.
"Everybody would know you brought it in," Kuykendall said. "To deposit it would be very difficult. It can get very complicated, even if it's legitimate money, it's every complicated."
Sanchez is being held without bond at the El Paso County jail. Jail records do not show if he has hired a lawyer.
On Sunday, Texas Department of Public of Safety troopers stopped a flatbed tractor trailer in Kinney County and discovered about 360 pounds of cocaine in a hidden compartment.
The driver, Aurelio Tonatihu Cortinas Hernandez, was arrested and faces federal drug charges over the cocaine, which DPS says has a street value of $3 million.
Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman, said the cocaine, bundled in 142 individual packages, was "relatively pure."
Shana Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Cortinas is being held in a local jail. She did not know if he had a lawyer.