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Press Release

Drug Trafficking Organizer Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

SAN DIEGO – Terrance Deandre Ellison was sentenced in federal court today to 20 years in prison for drug-trafficking crimes, including importation of methamphetamine and conspiring with others to import methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States.

During a week-long jury trial in May 2022, prosecutors proved that Ellison was a drug trafficker who recruited, organized, and operated a network of drug importers in connection with his methamphetamine distribution activities in San Diego County and elsewhere between March 2020 and May 2020. The jury found that Ellison used drug-addicted people to travel to Mexico and smuggle methamphetamine across the border as “body carriers” in exchange for cash payment or drugs after delivery of the methamphetamine to Ellison in the United States.

At Ellison’s behest, the “body carriers” concealed methamphetamine either inside their bodies or strapped to the outside. At trial, prosecutors proved that, on several occasions, Ellison went to Mexico, met with “body carriers” at a hotel or other location, purchased methamphetamine from drug suppliers in Mexico, packaged the methamphetamine for concealment, and directed the individuals how to conceal and cross the drugs into the United States. Once the “body carriers” crossed the border without getting caught, they would meet Ellison and travel to other locations to remove the drugs from their bodies. The “body carriers” then provided the drugs to Ellison.  

After several of his “body carriers” were arrested, Ellison choseto import the drugs himself. In May 2020, Ellison concealed the drugs inside a natural void behind the glove compartment of his rental car and entered the United States at the Otay Mesa, California Port of Entry. However, he was caught at the border and officers found the methamphetamine packages concealed inside.

At trial, prosecutors presented incriminating evidence, including voluntary statements made by Ellison during an interview with investigators; text messages from his cellular phone; and border crossing records of Ellison with his “body carriers.” The jury deliberated and found Ellison guilty of four counts, including conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, conspiracy to import methamphetamine, and importation of methamphetamine.

At today’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes found that Ellison had an aggravating role in the offenses because he was a leader and organizer, and the offenses were otherwise extensive. Judge Hayes also found that Ellison had obstructed justice when he testified at trial because Ellison gave false testimony on material matters with willful intent. In balancing the aggravating and mitigating factors, Judge Hayes concluded that a sentence of 20 years was sufficient but not greater than necessary.  Judge Hayes also placed Ellison on a 10-year term of supervised release, which will commence after Ellison has served his prison sentence. 

“This sentence sends a message to any drug trafficker operating drug importation and distribution networks in this district that you will receive a significant sentence for directing those who import dangerous narcotics,” said U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman. 

Grossman thanked the prosecution team and Homeland Security Investigations for their excellent work on this case.

“HSI will direct its full range of investigative authorities towards those who smuggle deadly drugs across the border and into our communities,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge of HSI San Diego. “This significant sentence demonstrates the U.S. government’s resolve with holding drug traffickers accountable for their actions.”


DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 20cr1788-WQH                                            

Terrance Deandre Ellison                               Age: 43                                   San Diego, CA


Conspiracy to Possess Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute – Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 841(a)(1) and 846

Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute – Title 21, U.S.C., Section 841(a)(1)

Conspiracy to Import Methamphetamine - Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 952, 960, and 963

Importation of Methamphetamine - Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 952 and 960

Maximum penalty as to each charge: Life in prison and $10 million fine


Homeland Security Investigations        


Assistant U. S. Attorneys Shauna R. Prewitt (619) 546-7937 and Joseph Orabona (619) 546-7951

Updated March 3, 2023

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS23-0302-Ellison