Two men arrested at MIA on cash smuggling charges after arrival from Ecuador

Two Ecuadorean men who arrived at Miami International Airport (MIA) and were accused of failing to report the total amount of money they were carrying are now facing possible trial in Miami federal court.

Victor Elias Galarza Salazar and Moises Gualberto Torres Vargas are awaiting an arraignment after being indicted Sept. 17 in the case brought against them by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The case is just the latest in a series of recent arrests at MIA involving people arrested and charged with failing to report money or valuables they are bringing in from abroad. Almost every month a new case arises at MIA where federal inspectors are on the lookout for cash smugglers.

The case was outlined in a criminal complaint filed in federal court by an HSI agent. The action began Sept. 6 at noon when Salazar and Vargas arrived at MIA aboard an American Airlines flight from Quito, the Ecuadorean capital.

According to the HSI criminal compliant Salazar was referred to an interrogation room because a computer alert showed that on a previous trip last year he had been fined $1,000 and formally warned about carrying more than $10,000 in cash.

“Salazar claimed he had two bags but there were no bags waiting for him at baggage claim,” the complaint said. “Officers asked Salazar if he was traveling with anyone and Salazar replied, ‘No,’ and then stated, ‘Oh wait, my assistant.’ ’’

At this point, officers asked Salazar whether he wanted to amend his customs form in which he claimed he was carrying less than $10,000. Salazar said no, that he had between $6,000 and $7,000 on him, according to the complaint.

When asked whether he had given any money to his assistant, by then identified as Vargas, Salazar denied doing so.

Officers located Vargas within the terminal and brought him to the interrogation room where he admitted that Salazar had given him $5,000 prior to their arrival, and instructed him to return it after arriving in Miami.

“Vargas admitted to officers that they split the money in order to circumvent the currency reporting requirements of the United States,” the HSI criminal complaint said.

Ultimately, officers found a total of $12,313 split between the two men — $7,292 (Salazar) and $5,021 (Vargas), according to the complaint.

After Salazar was arrested and declined to talk to officers further, he became argumentative and claimed he did not understand why he was being detained, according to the complaint.

“Salazar spontaneously stated he did not understand what the big deal was and that this was not a big law that he broke,” the complaint says.

Alfonso Chardy : 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy