A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and his ex-wife face the possibility of life in federal prison after they were convicted Thursday of taking part in a drug smuggling ring that distributed hundreds of kilograms of heroin, cocaine and marijuana from Los Angeles to Chicago, authorities said.
Manuel Porras Salas, 52, of Fontana and Sayda Powery Orellana, 50, of Fontana were convicted by a federal jury following a five-day trial and an investigation that began more than six years ago with a drug bust in New Mexico, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Ciaran McEvoy said in a written statement.
Salas is a 25-year veteran of the CBP who is currently on “indefinite suspension” from the law enforcement agency, McEvoy said.
Both he and Orellana were convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statement to federal law enforcement officials, according to the DOJ. The jury also convicted Orellana of four counts of money laundering.
Salas and Orellana each face a minimum of 10 years in prison when they return to federal court in Los Angeles for sentencing on April 15, officials said. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Both were immediately remanded to custody following the jury’s verdict on Thursday.
Salas worked at LAX, as well as John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and Ontario International Airport, prosecutors said.
They hired a trucker to haul drugs cross country, McEvoy said. They then laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money through bank accounts controlled by Orellana, who also gambled away much of the illicit proceeds at a Southern California casino, he said.
The scheme began to fall apart on March 11, 2012.
Police stopped a truck driver in Gallup, New Mexico, and discovered 260 kilograms — or 572 pounds — of cocaine, heroin and marijuana in his truck, officials said. The stash was valued at about $1.5 million. Investigators also found bank account numbers belonging to Orellana.
“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,” McEvoy said.
“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.
Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS teamed up in the investigation, with help from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.