Elderly traveller stashed $49k in bra, girdle, luggage

TRESA BALDAS
Last updated 12:46 12/08/2014

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Talk about a major bust.

A Florida woman was caught stashing nearly US$41,000 (NZ$49,000) in her bra, girdle and carry-on luggage at Detroit Metro Airport - and the US federal government says it's entitled to the loot.

The money belongs to a 78-year-old woman who, records show, sold a home and now stands to lose a big chunk of that money because she made a key mistake at the border: She lied about how much money she had - over and over again.

According to documents filed on Friday (local time) in US District Court in Detroit, here is how it all went down:

The woman and her daughter - neither of whom have been criminally charged - arrived at Detroit Metro Airport on April 2, intending to fly to the Philippines.

At an inspection point, the mother declared that she was carrying US$200; the daughter said she had US$1200.

Authorities then asked them to fill out forms declaring the amounts. The elderly woman wrote down that she was carrying US$1200, triggering suspicion - and follow-up questions.

Customs and Border Protection officers asked her whether she had any money in her carry-on bag. She said the US$1200 was all she had. But when officers searched her carry-on, they found US$8000 packed into several wallets.

Officers again asked her whether she had any other money. She said no. But a CPB officer found another US$4000 in cash sewn into a cloth pouch in her carry-on, and another US$977 in sealed envelopes.

An officer reminded her about her obligation to be truthful. That's when she fessed up and admitted she had US$3000 inside her blouse and pulled US$2000 from under a strap of her bra.

They asked her again whether she had more money. She said no.

Then came a pat-down. Officers detected a bulge near her buttocks. The woman then removed US$5000 from the back of her girdle, and said that was it.

But an officer discovered yet another bulge in the front of her girdle. Then came the tears. Crying, the woman admitted she had more money.

About US$21,000 was hidden in her girdle, bringing the total amount to US$40,977.

According to court documents, the source of the money was a home sale. The woman, who had retired recently, told authorities that she had sold her home to her son for US$120,000, and she had already wired some of the proceeds to the Philippines. She said she didn't wire this latest amount because she thought it was safer to carry the money. She said she lied because she thought it was illegal to take it out of the country.

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Authorities also interviewed the woman's daughter, who told them that she lived in Clearwater, Florida, with her elderly mother, but she didn't know about the hidden money.

CBP officials were not available for comment. The woman could not be reached by phone at her Florida home.

This airline case is similar to that of 2010 seizure at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, in which a Birmingham man forfeited nearly US$20,000 in gambling winnings because he lied about how much money he had. At the time, CBPofficials said had he just declared the winnings and filled out the currency reporting form, he would have gone home with his money. This is a common mistake travellers often make, authorities say: It's legal to bring money in and out of the country, you just have to declare it.

In the airline passenger's case, authorities say her hidden money is subject to forfeiture because it was part of a currency reporting violation and bulk cash smuggling.

- Detroit Free Press

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