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Drug smuggling charges against an Arizona mother of seven who was detained at the Mexican border have been dropped after authorities reviewed video evidence which cleared her of any wrongdoing.
Yanira Maldonado was initially detained on May 22 after Mexican authorities uncovered 12 pounds of marijuana located directly underneath her seat on a bus. Border patrol agents first believed that Maldonado’s husband Gary was the culprit, and he was placed under arrest. Because her husband does not speak Spanish, Yanira pleaded with law enforcement officials to let her act as a translator during the confusing ordeal. Eventually authorities decided to arrest Yanira in lieu of her husband. Gary was released after a few rounds of questioning.
Yanira was subjected to countless hours of interrogations over the next nine days. She vehemently denied bringing the drugs on the bus, but her pleas were met with skepticism from border patrol agents.
Reviewing the Evidence
A few days into the ordeal, authorities released pictures of the packages Yanira was suspected of smuggling. The packages of marijuana were five inches tall and 20 inches wide, and they were attached to the bottom of the seat using a system of metal hooks. An attorney for the Maldonado family said the way in which the packages were fastened to the seat would have made it an impossible task for an ordinary passenger to complete without arousing suspicion.
Eventually law enforcement officials reviewed the surveillance tapes from the passenger bus. Although the tapes haven’t been released to the public, the police report says Yanira boarded the bus carrying only a medium-sized purse and two bottles of water, while her husband carried on a few blankets. Authorities determined that the pair couldn’t possibly have concealed the drugs in the few items they brought on board, so they dropped the charges against Yanira and released her late Thursday night.
“Is this it?” said Maldonado moments after she was released from custody. “Thank you. God bless you,” she told an official before leaving.
She was reunited with her husband upon release, and the pair got in a waiting car and returned to Arizona.
While few will argue that border patrol agents were doing anything but their job when they discovered the drugs underneath Maldonado’s seat, there is a footnote in the story that offers some concern. Although details are still a little foggy, there have been reports that authorities may have been attempting to solicit a bribe from the family.
USA today reports that authorities told Gary that they would need $5,000 for his wife’s release, while a report by ABC news suggests that an attorney told Gary he could bribe a judge for the same amount. The same source said a frantic Mr. Maldonado had the money wired to him and he even offered the money, but it was not accepted.
It will be interesting to see if anything more comes to light surrounding the alleged attempts to curry favor with bribes, but the family is just happy to be reunited for the time being.
Related sources: USA Today, ABC News, Yahoo