Refugio County deputies seize $131,900 in cash during traffic stop

Refugio County Sheriff Pinky Gonzales poses with money seized from a traffic stop in Refugio. Deputies charged the driver with money laundering.

A driver faces a money laundering charge after a Refugio County deputy discovered $131,900 concealed inside his SUV during a routine traffic stop, a sheriff’s official said.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Chief Deputy Gary Wright.

About 4 a.m. Friday, a deputy found the money after stopping a black Chevrolet Tahoe along U.S. 77 in Refugio for making a wide right turn, Wright said.

During the traffic stop, the deputy asked driver Ernesto Avila Rafols, a 51-year-old Cuban citizen, for permission to search his SUV after he gave conflicting information about his destination, the chief deputy said. Rafols consented to the search.

When the deputy noticed scratch marks near screws fastening the SUV’s central cup holder, she removed the panel with a screwdriver and found the money hidden beneath, Wright said.

Sheriff’s officials arrested Rafols on suspicion of second-degree felony money laundering and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

As of Monday, Rafols remained in the Refugio County Jail in lieu of a $30,000 bond.

Assistant District Attorney Tim Poynter said his office planned to go after the seized money through civil forfeiture laws.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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