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Press Release

Two Individuals With Ties to an International Fentanyl Trafficking Organization Sentenced to Federal Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Two individuals, Hector Luciano Perez Valenzuela and John Steven Ellingson, from Oregon, were sentenced for their roles in an international drug trafficking organization (DTO) moving kilogram quantities of fentanyl and operating in multiple cities across the country, including Fayetteville. A third defendant, Kittisack Sam Vorana, age 30, was sentenced to 48 months earlier this year for his role in the conspiracy. The DTO has ties to the Sinaloa cartel operating in Mexico.

“Valenzuela and Vorana were caught transporting a quantity of fentanyl that, by conservative estimates, could have killed more than 700,000 people,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “And Ellingson was responsible for distributing many times that amount of fentanyl. We are continuing our efforts to stem the tide of illegal and dangerous drugs that are devastating communities across Eastern North Carolina.”

"These drug dealers boldly believed they could use Fayetteville as a hub to stash and ship fentanyl across the country. The FBI and our law enforcement partners worked tirelessly to ensure the members of this drug trafficking organization were punished for the pipeline of poison they operated in our community," said Robert M. DeWitt, the Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in North Carolina. 

Valenzuela, age 35, was sentenced to 151 months and 3 years of supervised release. Valenzuela was convicted by a federal jury of two counts of conspiracy and fentanyl trafficking earlier this year. Ellingson, age 34 , was sentenced to 78 months followed by 5 years of supervised release, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy and fentanyl trafficking.

According to court records and other information presented in court, in 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fayetteville Police Department began investigating a large-scale fentanyl trafficking ring. Through the investigation, law enforcement learned that the leaders of the DTO were based on the west coast, but they set up apartments in the Fayetteville area for use as hubs for the distribution of dozens of kilograms of fentanyl across the United States.

Through the use of surveillance and controlled purchases, investigators identified Ellingson as a member of the drug trafficking organization, which was primarily based in California.  Ellingson  operated a Fayetteville stash house for the organization and then transported kilograms of fentanyl to cities around the country, including, but not limited, to Chicago, New York, and Baltimore.  Ellingson also assembled firearms for the DTO members.

In early November 2019, Ellingson and two of his co-conspirators—Vorana and Valenzuela – decided to steal large quantities of drugs from the DTO, sell the drugs, and divide the profits.

Vorana and Valenzuela traveled from the west coast and stole 7 kilograms of fentanyl and approximately 3,000 fentanyl pills from the Fayetteville stash house. Each kilogram of fentanyl was valued at $38,000.  On their way back to the west coast during the early morning hours of November 8, 2019, they were stopped for speeding in St. Charles County, Missouri and consented to a search of the vehicle they were driving. During the search, law enforcement discovered a toolbox that contained seven brick-like packages. The packages had been wrapped in electrical tape and covered in grease to help evade detection by drug canines. A key to the toolbox was found in Valenzuela’s pocket.

These cases are part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launders, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

The cases were investigated in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, which prosecuted members of the drug trafficking organization based on the west coast.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Fayetteville Police Department, and the St. Charles County Police Department investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Lemmon and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Gainer  prosecuted the cases.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case Nos. 5:20-cr-00397-M and 5:20-CR-00012-M.

Updated December 15, 2023