UIW student, teen arrested by border officers for allegedly trying to smuggle more than $879K

Pair had money in taped boxes on flight to Mexico

By Garrett Brnger - Reporter, Brina Monterroza - Executive Producer, Keith Dunlap - Graham Media Group

SAN ANTONIO - Federal authorities arrested a University of the Incarnate Word student and a teen with links to Mexican political figures for trying to smuggle $879,099 out of the country Sunday.

Rafael Gabriel Martinez Leal, 19, and Juan Pablo Hoyos Avila, 22, are charged with intending to evade the currency reporting requirements by knowingly concealing more than $10,000 in currency. The two were caught at San Antonio International Airport after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers received an anonymous tip.

Hoyos has been a student at UIW since 2015 and is registered for the fall semester, the university confirmed. His major is listed as business administration.

Martinez is the cousin of the wife of Gov. Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, of Tamaulipas, which the governor's spokesman confirmed, according to The Monitor, a newspaper in McAllen.

Multiple Mexican media outlets have reported the teen is the cousin of Jose Ramon Gomez Leal, who is supposed to be part of the team of incoming Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. 

Investigators said Hoyos and Martinez were preparing to fly to Mexico on a private aircraft, but their plane was stopped after Customs and Border Protection officers received an anonymous phone call at around 6:45 p.m. Sunday, warning of a private plane smuggling a large amount of U.S. currency between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The plane was getting ready to fly to Monterrey, Mexico, according to a federal criminal complaint. Instead, CBP officers asked the Federal Aviation Administration tower to divert the plane to the CBP inspection facility.

An inspection of the aircraft revealed stacks of currency totaling $879,099 concealed inside a box marked as carrying a fan, according to authorities. Martinez had not declared any money, and Hoyos had declared $960.

Federal law requires travelers who are carrying more than $10,000 in currency or monetary instruments to report it to a CBP officer and fill out a U.S. Treasury Department financial form. 

Martinez and Hoyos were turned over to Homeland Security Investigations. They admitted to their involvement in the alleged smuggling incident.

According to a federal criminal complaint, Martinez said he has been coordinating and smuggling money to Mexico for about nine months. The teen said he coordinated moving the cash around the United States to San Antonio, where he would pick up the money from Hoyos and smuggle it to Mexico by private aircraft.

Martinez told investigators he smuggled about $1 million a week for a 3.5 percent cut.

Hoyos said he had been helping Martinez since about January, receiving cash from different people and stowing it in his garage until Martinez could pick it up.

The UIW student wrote a statement saying he knew it was wrong and it was "something like undeclared cash or drug money." He also said he'd picked up money in Houston and brought it back to San Antonio.

The pilot, who was allegedly hired by Martinez, said he did not know anything about the smuggling of U.S. currency, according to the complaint, as did two other passengers on the plane.

Hoyos is scheduled to appear in federal court on Friday morning for a preliminary and detention hearing. Martinez's preliminary and detention hearing is scheduled for July 26.

Copyright 2018 by KSAT - All rights reserved.