Tara Hanlon, 30, was held as she tried to board a flight to Dubai in October of last year with more than £1.9 million in sterling notes.
The find, vacuum packed in five suitcases and covered in ground coffee to hide the smell from sniffer dogs, was described at the time as the largest individual cash seizure at the border that year.
She pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to remove criminal property from England and Wales between July 13 and October 4 last year, which has been left to lie on file.
But she admitted three counts of removing criminal property, relating to cash amounts of £1.4 million on July 14, £1.1 million on August 10 and £1 million on August 31 last year.
The defendant also pleaded guilty to attempting to remove £1.9 million in criminal cash from the country on the day she was arrested.
Recruitment consultant Hanlon, of Pelham Court, Leeds, appeared at Isleworth Crown Court on Monday, where she was jailed for 34 months.
Prosecutor Nathan Rasiah said the charges related to three trips taken to the United Arab Emirates city last summer and one failed attempt in October.
The court heard that on October 3 2020, the defendant was stopped at the airport by a customs official when travelling with a friend to Dubai.
When asked about the purpose of the visit and her luggage, the defendant said she was going on a “girls’ trip” and that she had checked in the five suitcases because she “wasn’t sure what to wear” whilst there.
The defendant denied that she was travelling with cash on her person or in her luggage, but was subsequently taken into custody and arrested for money laundering after officials discovered the cash in the suitcases.
In a prepared statement to investigators, Hanlon said that it was the first trip she had taken, that she was not being paid and believed it to be legal as the money would be declared in Dubai.
However, inquiries with the airline and a search of the defendant’s phone by authorities revealed that she had made three previous visits in July and August as a courier, and had been paid around £3,000 for each trip.
After liaising with authorities in Dubai, the National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered Hanlon had declared she was carrying more than a million pounds in cash upon arrival on each occasion, totalling £3.5 million.
Stephen Grattage, defending, claimed that Hanlon was vulnerable at the time of the offences following the sudden death of her mother in March and having been furloughed from her job shortly afterwards.
However, during sentencing, Judge Karen Holt told her: “Although you were vulnerable at the time, I don’t find that you have been exploited and find that you knew what you were doing.”