nogales

Woman sentenced in case of kids crossing border with cash

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Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 7:18 am

A woman convicted of child abuse after two of her teenage children were caught trying to carry $100,000 in undeclared currency into Mexico through Nogales has been sentenced to a three-year probation term that includes seven months of incarceration in the county jail.

Veronica Angulo Leyva, a 40-year-old resident of Nogales, Sonora was sentenced by Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge James A. Soto on Jan. 30 after she pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse, a Class 5 felony. As part of her plea deal with the County Attorney's Office, an additional charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering, a Class 3 felony, was dropped.

Court documents show that on Sept. 24, 2011, a currency detection dog named Xodus alerted to a 14-year-old girl while U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers were inspecting southbound pedestrians at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry.

The girl and her traveling companion - her 16-year-old brother - were taken in for questioning, and a subsequent search of the girl uncovered 10 rubber-banded stacks of U.S. bills stuffed into her girdle. CBP then called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) and the Nogales Police Department.

The teens called their mother - Angulo Leyva - who came to the port and, according to a pre-sentence report, "made a statement which was evaluated by the investigating officers as being incriminating." Still, an investigator with ICE HSI reportedly told Nogales Police Detective Jose Pimienta that the feds would not prosecute the three suspects, and so Pimienta agreed to take it as an NPD case.

Court documents show that Angulo Leyva and her two children gave "evasive" and "evolving" statements to investigators, but that police pieced together a basic story line that began when Angulo Leyva's husband called her in Nogales, Sonora and said he needed the two teenagers to go to Wal-Mart in Nogales, Ariz. and pick up a pink slip (vehicle title) for a friend who didn't have border-crossing documents.

The three defendants reportedly said they didn't know at that point that the errand involved picking up a cash load, though they knew the family would be paid $150 for doing it.

"I didn't ask my husband any questions," Angulo Leyva told a probation officer. "I thought my husband's story was straight."

No pink slip

So Angulo Leyva sent the two children across the border in a car driven by another 21-year-old daughter. The siblings first went to Wal-Mart, but then traveled to the Chevron station in Rio Rico where they met an unknown man who was waiting in a vehicle.

"The unknown man gave (the boy) a McDonald's food bag filled with money, but no pink slip title to a vehicle," the pre-sentence report says. "(The boy) did not know what to do other than bring the money with them back to Mexico."

At that point, the older sister brought her siblings back to Wal-Mart, where the girl went into a rest room and stuffed the cash into a girdle. She and her brother then took a city bus to the port of entry, where they were detained.

Angulo Leyva said that when she arrived at the port to meet her children, she was greeted outside by her husband, who told her about the undeclared cash. She maintained that it was the first she had heard of the smuggling attempt.

"I would never have involved my children or hazarded their lives with probable drug money and drug people," she told the probation officer.

She said she agreed to plead guilty to child abuse only after her lawyer told her that it was likely that a jury would convict her of money laundering and child abuse.

Angulo Leyva also told the officer that she had lived for 25 years in California as an undocumented immigrant. She said her children were born in the United States, but she decided to return with them to Mexico to prevent her son from getting involved with gang activity in California.

The case file also suggests that Angulo Leyva is five months pregnant, and that she learned of the pregnancy while in the county jail.

She had served 128 days in jail at the time of her sentencing, and Soto credited her for that time against her seven-month jail sentence.