U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer, Wife Sentenced to 12 Years for Interstate Drug Trafficking

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer is seen in an undated image released by the agency.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer is seen in an undated image released by the agency.

A federal judge sentenced a longtime U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to more than 12 years in prison Thursday for helping to ship hundreds of pounds of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from Los Angeles to Chicago as part of an interstate drug trafficking ring, authorities said.

Manuel Porras Salas, 52, of Fontana, who has been suspended indefinitely from the CBP, “let his agency down and let his country down,” U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said upon handing down the sentence in federal court in Los Angeles, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a written statement. Salas’ former wife and accomplice, 50-year-old Sayda Powery Orellana of Fontana, received the same sentence of 12-and-a-half years in federal prison.

A jury convicted Salas and Orellana in December of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Orellana was also found guilty of four additional counts of money laundering.

“Salas, who previously worked as a CBP officer at John Wayne and Ontario International airports, and Orellana obtained kilogram quantities of narcotics and provided them to a commercial truck driver who delivered the narcotics from California to Illinois,” according to U.S. DOJ spokeman Ciaran McEvoy. “The defendants also laundered the hundreds of thousands of dollars they received in compensation by using bank accounts in the names of Orellana and others.”

The scheme was discovered after authorities pulled over a commercial truck on March 11, 2012, in Gallup, New Mexico. Inside, investigators found more than 570 pounds of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, valued at about $1.5 million, prosecutors said.

The driver told investigators he had worked with Salas and Orellana on “multiple occasions” to transport drugs across country, then deposit proceeds from their sales to bank accounts controlled by them, McEvoy said. The driver has since pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute.

U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna said the crimes were egregious.

“This federal law enforcement officer and his then-wife were involved in the distribution of narcotics worth millions of dollars,” he said. “They participated in a sophisticated trafficking operation that sent many pounds of dangerous and addictive drugs to the Midwest. While the narcotics distribution was not directly related to Officer Salas’ position with the government, we cannot tolerate any law enforcement official playing a role in illegal activity that threatens the well-being of American citizens.”

David Downing, who serves as special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles Field Office, echoed Hanna’s sentiments.

“Today’s sentence reflects DEA’s commitment to not only destroying drug trafficking organizations, but also to rooting out police corruption,” he said. “This sentence is indicative of the hard work by our federal law enforcement partners, as well as our financial investigations group’s dedicated agents.”

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