Los Angeles authorities confirm the allegations of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and his ex-wife after being convicted of taking part in a drug smuggling ring that distributed hundreds of kilograms of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana from Los Angeles to Chicago. The ex-couples could face life in federal prison if found guilty on all charges.
According to a written statement by U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Ciaran McEvoy, Manuel Porras Salas, 52, of Fontana and his ex Sayda Powery Orellana, 50, of Fontana were convicted by a federal jury following a long five-day trial. Along with an investigation that started more than six years ago with a drug bust in New Mexico.
The reports state Salas is a 25-year veteran of the CBP who is currently on “indefinite suspension” from the law enforcement agency.
The two suspects were found guilty and convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit to money laundering and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials. The DOJ also reports that the jury convicted Orellana of four counts of money laundering.
Officials said both face a minimum of 10-15 years in prison when they return to federal court in Los Angeles for sentencing on April 15th and are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney. They will be facing a maximum sentence of life in prison. The ex-couple remained in custody following the jury’s verdict.
Prosecutors confirm Salas worked at LAX, as well as John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and Ontario International Airport. They are still investigating if the two had any illegal substances smuggled through any of the listed Airports.
The report claims they hired a trucker to haul drugs across the country while they laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money through bank accounts controlled by Orellana, who according to McEvoy also gambled most of the illicit proceeds at a Southern California casino.
The elaborate scheme unraveled on March 11, 2012, when Police stopped a truck driver in Gallup, New Mexico. Authorities discovered 260 kilograms-572 pounds of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in his truck. The police report states the confiscated drugs were valued at around $1.5 million and had traced to bank account numbers belonging to Orellana.
McEvoy told reporters, “The commercial truck driver, who later pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, told law enforcement that he worked with Salas and Orellana transporting narcotics to Chicago and had done so on multiple occasions.”
“When he drove a truck to Chicago, he would receive cash proceeds for the narcotics, and then Salas and Orellana would direct him to deposit the money into various bank accounts, including an account in Orellana’s name,” he said
Authorities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS all worked together in the investigation, with aid from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for The District Of New Mexico. The investigation is still ongoing.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph T. McNally and Aron Ketchel of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.