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Man who tried to smuggle cocaine in surfboard gets 5 years in prison

Feds: X-rays revealed cocaine inside hollowed-out surfboard at LAX, leading to owner's arrest
Pomona man gets five years in prison for trying to smuggle cocaine from LAX to Australia inside surfboard
Feds: Strong smell, 'anomalies' inside surfboard led to discovery of nearly seven pounds of cocaine

A 31-year-old man arrested at Los Angeles International Airport with a hollowed-out surfboard containing nearly seven pounds of cocaine was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison.

Jesse Edgardo Herrera, of Pomona, pleaded guilty in May to one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Special agents from that agency's Homeland Security Investigations division arrested Herrera in February, as he attempted to fly from LAX to Sydney.

Officials estimated the drugs -- divided into four plastic bags inside the freshly painted surfboard -- would have fetched $750,000 in Australia. 

According to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, Herrera checked two pieces of luggage for his Feb. 26 flight -- a black suitcase and a green surfboard.

Customs agents in charge of inspecting the items noticed a "strong chemical/glue odor emanating from the surfboard," according to the affidavit. One side had been tampered with and the board recently painted, it said.

The agents then used X-rays on the surfboard and discovered "what appeared to be anomalies, dense items, concealed within," the affidavit said.

Agents found Herrera, who confirmed the surfboard was his. The 31-year-old said he was an architect traveling to Australia for vacation, the affidavit said, but gave conflicting information about how he purchased his tickets.

One of the agents used a saw to cut into the surfboard and found a plastic bag with a white substance that tested positive for cocaine, the affidavit said. The three other bags were found when the surfboard was dismantled.

Authorities later learned Herrera had traveled to Mexico and Peru an estimated six times in the months leading up to his arrest; most recently returning from Lima eight days before he tried to make the Australia trip. The agent who wrote the affidavit described that as "suspicious travel behavior."

An investigation into the "broader circumstances surrounding the smuggling attempt" is ongoing, ICE officials said in their statement Monday.

Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said in the statement the case "shows yet again the lengths to which smugglers will go in an effort to conceal their contraband."

Follow @katemather for more crime news across Southern California.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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