Thursday, December 8, 2011

Federal Agents Seize Millions in Drugs, Arrest Six in Intricate Cross-Border Tunnel Scheme

Federal and state drugs and immigration enforcement agents seized millions in drugs and arrested six individuals who are connected to an intricate cross-border tunnel in Southern California that was used to move millions of dollars in drugs, officials announced last week.

The 612-yard-long tunnel stretched between Tijuana, Mexico, and warehouses in San Diego, Calif., and housed more than 32 tons of marijuana worth nearly $65 million, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The tunnel was one of the most sophisticated tunnels found near the United States-Mexico border in recent years, investigators said, and was outfitted with electric rail cars, lighting, reinforced walls and wooden floors. The tunnel's entrance in Mexico was equipped with a hydraulically controlled steel door and an elevator.

"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," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in San Diego. "It's clear though, from the level of sophistication involved, that the criminal organization responsible for constructing this tunnel had very ambitious plans."

Agents found the tunnel after a six-month investigation. On Nov. 28, investigators watched a man leave the warehouse in San Diego in a tractor trailer truck and head toward Los Angeles. At a U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente, canines alerted on the vehicle for the presence of drugs, ICE said. The driver continued to the City of Industry, Calif., after agents, who were aware of the investigation, allowed the driver to continue past the checkpoint.
After agents watched the man and three other individuals unload the trailer's contents in the City of Industry, ICE HSI agents moved in, arresting the four individuals and seizing nearly 11 tons of marijuana from inside the trailer.
The investigation was led by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which is composed of agents from ICE HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Federal authorities have found more than 75 cross-border tunnels, mainly located in California and Arizona, in the last four years.