"Historic" Seizure: CBP Finds $27M in Hard Cash Aboard Freighter

cash seizure
Image courtesy CBP

Published Sep 2, 2020 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $27 million in cash inside moving boxes aboard a small freighter at the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

During an outbound inspection of cargo on board the AHTS-turned-cargo ship Norma H II, a CBP K-9 picked up a scent from un-manifested pallets containing moving boxes destined for St. Thomas. CBP officers opened up one of the boxes and discovered U.S. currency wrapped in vacuum-sealed packages. Further inspection of the pallets revealed a total of 34 cargo boxes containing the rest of the undeclared currency. 

CBP agents seized the currency under failure to declare and bulk cash smuggling laws.

“In recent years, the smuggling of bulk currency has become a preferred method for drug trafficking organizations and other criminal enterprises to move illicit proceeds across our borders,” said Iván J. Arvelo, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “This seizure is proof that HSI remains vigilant."

The seizure was part of a broader investigation conducted by CBP, DEA, HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, the agency said. 

“This is without a doubt a historic money seizure in the Caribbean region. Most likely more than one transnational criminal organization is involved and seriously bleeding at this very moment. We will not let our guard down, and we will continue our joint efforts between federal and state agencies without rest. Inter-agency efforts have been excellent and we’ll continue to achieve great results,” said DEA Caribbean Division Special Agent in Charge A.J. Collazo.

The Norma H II is a 1974-built anchor handler now serving as a breakbulk cargo vessel. She ordinarily serves Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, Christiansted in St. Croix and Road Town in Tortola. As of Wednesday she was under way, bound for the British Virgin Islands.