LOS ANGELES – A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who once worked at Los Angeles International Airport and his ex-wife have been found guilty by a federal jury of multiple felonies for participating in a narcotics distribution ring that moved hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from the Los Angeles area to Chicago.
Manuel Porras Salas, 52, of Fontana, a 25-year veteran of CBP who is on indefinite suspension from the agency, and Sayda Powery Orellana, 50, also of Fontana, were found guilty Thursday afternoon following a five-day trial in United States District Court. Following the verdicts, the defendants were remanded into federal custody.
The jury found Salas and Orellana guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of making false statements to law enforcement. The jury also found Orellana guilty of four additional money laundering counts.
According to court documents and the evidence presented to the jury, Salas, who also worked as a CBP officer at John Wayne and Ontario International airports, and Orellana used a commercial truck driver to move hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs from California to Illinois. For their participation, the defendants received hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation that they then laundered through bank accounts held in the name of Orellana and others. Orellana also gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars in the narcotics proceeds at a Southern California casino.
The investigation began when a commercial truck driver was stopped in Gallup, New Mexico on March 11, 2012, with about 260 kilograms of narcotics – including cocaine, heroin and marijuana – valued at approximately $1.5 million dollars. In addition to the narcotics, investigators found bank account numbers belonging to Orellana a co-conspirator. 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.
When interviewed by federal agents, Salas and Orellana made false statements about their relationship with the truck driver and the source of the money in the bank accounts.
Salas and Orellana are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney on April 15, at which time each will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison.
The case against Salas and Orellana is the product of an investigation by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Office of Professional Responsibility; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph T. McNally and Aron Ketchel of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico provided assistance in this matter.