Customs officer who was part of drug trafficking ring gets 12 years in prison
A veteran U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and his ex-wife were both sentenced to 12 years in prison for their roles in a drug trafficking operation, federal prosecutors in Southern California announced Thursday.
Manuel Porras Salas, 52, and his former wife, Sayda Powery Orellana, 50, were convicted in December of one count each of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statements to law enforcement. Orellana was found guilty of an additional four counts of money laundering, prosecutors said.
The two took part in distributing hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from Southern California to Chicago, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Salas, who had worked at John Wayne and Ontario international airports in his 25 years as a customs agent, was indefinitely suspended after the drug trafficking allegations surfaced.
“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,” U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna said in a statement.
The investigation began in March 2012 when a commercial truck driver was arrested with 260 kilograms of heroin, cocaine and marijuana worth about $1.5 million as he was driving through Gallup, N.M.
The truck driver told officers he was working with Salas and Orellana to transport the drugs to Chicago, prosecutors said. The driver said he would receive drug proceeds and deposit the money into bank accounts at the direction of Salas and Orellana. He eventually pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.
Phone and bank records pointed investigators to Salas. When confronted, Salas and Orellana told officials that they didn’t know the driver and that the money deposited into Orellana’s bank account was meant for someone else.
“Mr. Salas violated the trust placed in him by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the people of this country for his own and his former wife’s personal financial gain,” said Ryan Korner, an Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator.
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