Entries in Drug Tunnel (3)


Sophisticated Drug Tunnel Could Have Moved Tons of Narcotics

FRANCISCO VEGA/AFP/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- Federal officials revealed that a drug tunnel discovered Tuesday during a bust that netted 32 tons of marijuana was so sophisticated that it had a secret working elevator, electric lighting, rail cars and hydraulic doors -- but may have been found before smugglers could get the narcotics into the hands of American customers.

The tunnel, ending in San Diego, Calif., is easily the "most sophisticated that we have discovered perhaps ever, but definitely at least in the last five years," Lauren Mack, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told ABC News early Wednesday.

Authorities described the intricate, 600-yard-plus tunnel, as well as the seizure of 32 tons of marijuana -- value estimated at $65 million -- at a press conference late Wednesday. But according to ICE special agent Derek Benner, the underground passageway was found before the smugglers could make use of all their hard work.

"From the conditions inside the passageway and our ongoing investigation, we're confident we've been able to shut this operation down before the perpetrators were able to use it for smuggling narcotics," Benner said in a statement. "It's clear though, from the level of sophistication involved, that the criminal organization responsible for constructing this tunnel had very ambitious plans."

The tunnel's discovery was the product of a six-month investigation by several law enforcement agencies, including San Diego's dedicated Tunnel Task Force, along with Mexican authorities, ICE said. A late break in the case came when officials observed a tractor trailer leaving a warehouse in the southern San Diego neighborhood of Otay Mesa. Drug dogs at a border patrol checkpoint in San Clemente, Calif., outside Los Angeles alerted agents to narcotics on board, but, being aware of the larger investigation, the agents allowed the truck to roll through.

It wasn't until the truck arrived at its apparent destination in a Los Angeles suburb and men began unloading its cargo that federal agents moved in, arrested four men and seized nearly 11 tons of marijuana from the truck, ICE said. Another approximately 17 tons of pot was discovered in the Otay Mesa warehouse "wrapped in plastic and stacked neatly on pallets."

On the Mexican side, ICE said the tunnel's entrance was in another warehouse but could only be accessed through a "hydraulically-controlled steel door and an elevator concealed beneath the warehouse floor." At the bottom of the tunnel shaft, federal agents found another three tons of marijuana. Another ton was found "in bundles near the tunnel's entrance," ICE said.

Six suspects were arrested in total in connection with the drug smuggling operation.

The tunnel's discovery is the latest in a string of high-profile finds in the war on drugs. More than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels have been discovered since 2007, ICE said.

Earlier this month, U.S. authorities nabbed 14 tons of marijuana from warehouses connected by a drug tunnel from Mexico to the same south San Diego neighborhood. Just a few days ago a pair of similar tunnels were uncovered in the Arizona border town of Nogales.

Federal officials are "putting a stranglehold on the cartels' ability to smuggle drugs into the United States," said William R. Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego. "Seizing close to 50 tons of marijuana in one month denies the cartels the financial means to continue their operations."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Agents Uncover 'Most Sophisticated' Drug Tunnel in Years

David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- Federal agents in California have uncovered the "most sophisticated" drug tunnel in years, the latest discovery in what an official said had become a "major phenomenon" in the war on drugs.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to give details on the tunnel which ran from Tijuana to San Diego but said, "When we talk about a sophisticated tunnel, we're talking about tunnels that have some type of reinforcement in them and a lot of work has been put into them to help them smuggle the drugs in an easier way.

"In the past we have found tunnels that have railways and lighting and ventilation and all kinds of different scenarios and this is one of the most sophisticated that we have discovered perhaps ever, but definitely at least in the last five years," ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack said.

The tunnel was discovered by San Diego's Tunnel Task Force in cooperation with Mexican authorities, Mack said. The task force, whose sole job is to uncover drug smuggling tunnels, is made up of agents from ICE, Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Earlier this month, U.S. authorities nabbed 14 tons of marijuana from warehouses connected by a drug tunnel from Mexico to south San Diego. That tunnel was built with structural support and had the electric lighting and ventilation. Just a few days ago a pair of similar tunnels were uncovered in the Arizona border town of Nogales.

Mack said such tunnels had become a "major phenomenon ongoing increasingly in the last decade or so" for cartels in Mexico trying to get their product into the hands of U.S. customers.

Marijuana was also discovered in the new tunnel and Mack said federal agents were up late Monday night weighing it. The amount, along with other details about the tunnel, are expected to be revealed at a press conference in San Diego at 5 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


San Diego Drug Tunnel Yields 14 Tons of Marijuana

US Dept of Justice(SAN DIEGO) -- A huge drug tunnel under the U.S. border south of San Diego, apparently dug by a Mexican drug cartel, has yielded 14 tons of marijuana, say U.S. and Mexican authorities.

The narrow opening of the 400-yard-long tunnel, outfitted with structural supports, electric lights and ventilation, was discovered by federal agents in a warehouse in the border neighborhood of Otay Mesa, California. After officers stopped a van leaving the warehouse and found three tons of marijuana aboard, they searched the warehouse and found more than six tons inside.

Mexican authorities then intercepted at least five additional tons at the other end of the tunnel in a warehouse near Tijuana's airport. The bales were stamped with a Captain America logo that Mexican authorities say is used by a Sinaloa-based drug cartel, according to press reports.

Authorities have discovered 75 drug tunnels under the U.S./Mexico border since 2008, most in Otay Mesa, an area of industrial warehouses, and in Nogales, Arizona, where an existing drainage area underneath the border makes tunneling easy.

"The discovery of this tunnel is a tribute not only to the effectiveness of our joint investigative efforts, but also to the significant benefits we're gaining by using new technology to target this kind of smuggling activity," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. "The drug cartels mistakenly believe they can elude detection by taking their contraband underground, but, again and again, we've been able to find these tunnels and shut them down."

The investigation is being conducted by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which was formed in 2003 and draws from ICE, Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol, the DEA and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.

The passageway uncovered Tuesday is the sixth major drug smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006. Last year, local investigators identified two highly sophisticated tunnels in the area, one on Election Day and one three weeks later on Thanksgiving. The tunnels, which had rail tracks as well as ventilation and lighting, yielded a combined 50 tons of marijuana.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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