A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who worked at Los Angeles International Airport and his ex-wife face lengthy federal prison sentences Thursday for their roles in a drug distribution ring that moved hundreds of pounds of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from the Southland to Chicago.
Manuel Salas, 52, and Sayda Orellana, 50, were found guilty in December following a five-day trial in Los Angeles federal court. Following the verdicts, the defendants were immediately taken into custody.
Federal prosecutors are recommending that U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney impose 14-year sentences on each defendant, who both face mandatory minimum terms of 10 years behind bars. Their attorneys argued in court papers for sentences of 12 and a half years each.
The jury found Salas and Orellana — who divorced in 2011 and most recently lived in Fontana — guilty of one count each of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and making false statements to law enforcement. The jury also found Orellana guilty of four additional money laundering counts.
Salas, a 25-year veteran of CBP who also worked as an officer at John Wayne and Ontario International airports, and Orellana used a commercial truck driver to move hundreds of pounds of illegal drugs from California to Illinois.
For their participation, the defendants received hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation that they 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, evidence showed.
The investigation began when a commercial truck driver was stopped in Gallup, New Mexico on March 11, 2012, with about 570 pounds of narcotics — including cocaine, heroin and marijuana — valued at nearly $1.5 million.
In addition to the narcotics, investigators found bank account numbers belonging to Orellana. The 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, according to federal prosecutors.
The driver said that when he drove a truck to Chicago, he would receive cash 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 lied about their relationship with the truck driver and the source of the money in the bank accounts, evidence showed.
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