Americas

Former Ecuador official strikes deal for sneaking gold, cash in airport

Former vice mayor Esther Arce Moncayo was arrested earlier this year at Miami International Airport for failing to declare gold and cash she was carrying.
Former vice mayor Esther Arce Moncayo was arrested earlier this year at Miami International Airport for failing to declare gold and cash she was carrying. El Nuevo Herald

A former Ecuadoran municipal official who was arrested earlier this year at Miami International Airport (MIA) for failing to declare gold and cash she was carrying struck a deal with prosecutors that would spare her trial and prison, a federal prosecutor said in court Monday.

“It [the deal] has been agreed to and approved”, assistant U.S. attorney Sean Cronin told U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick White.

Under the agreement, Esther Arce Moncayo -- the former vice mayor of the Ecuadoran city of Santo Domingo – will enter into a pre-trial diversion program which is is generally reserved for defendants with no felony convictions.

The details of the agreement were not available, but one document pertaining to Arce’s $200,000 bond indicated that her probation officer would allow her to return to Ecuador. It was not clear from the document whether Arce was returning to Ecuador to stay or whether she will be required to return for further court or probation action on the case.

“This case was resolved with the defendant’s acceptance and entry into the pre-trial diversion program,” according to defense motion submitted in court. “ Because the defendant is in the diversion program, she is now being monitored by probation officer Jimmy Navarro and is, pursuant to the agreement, allowed to travel to her home country of Ecuador.”

Her attorney. Philip Louis Reizenstein, could not be reached for comment.

The case drew international media attention because Arce, 49, was a well-known former official in Ecuador.

Her arrest came to light after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials detained at the MIA on June 12.

When Arce turned in her Customs declaration, officers did not believe her statement that she was not carrying more than $10,000 and referred here to an interrogation room.

It was there that officers discovered that not only was Arce carrying $14,780, but she also had gold in her checked baggage worth more than $110,000.

A criminal detailed the U.S. government’s case against Arce.

Arce’s daughter melted gold objects and placed them in the center of two plaques that her mother described to interrogators at MIA as awards recognizing her work in Ecuador.

When officers examined the plaques, a yellow metal object in the center came loose.

“At this time, it appeared the yellow metal object might be gold,” the complaint says. “The plaques weighed 5.57 pounds and the gold was estimated to have a value of approximately $103,000 to $110,000 USD.”

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