Feds find drug tunnel to Mexico
The marijuana battle raged on two fronts in California on Tuesday -- above ground, where where voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized personal use and possession, and below.
In San Diego on Tuesday night, federal and state agents were shimmying into an 1,800-foot tunnel between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and seizing roughly 30 tons of marijuana on both sides of the border that they linked to the passageway.
The tunnel had lighting, ventilation, drainage and a rail system -- hallmarks of a drug cartel's operation, U.S. officials said Wednesday-- and connected a warehouse in an industrial area near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego with a similar building in Tijuana.
The tunnel appeared to have been completed within the last month, agents said in announcing the seizure they valued at $20 million.
At about 4 ft. high and 3 ft. wide, it was large enough to crawl through -- although not stand in -- and descended about 18 feet underground. The length of six football fields, it was a sizable operation; it was, however, shorter than the record 2,400-foot tunnel uncovered in 2006 in the same area.
The tunnel was the 75th to be uncovered in the last four years, most of those along the California and Arizona borders with Mexico, giving rise to the multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force that developed the recent case.
The 30 tons seized was not "a mom-and-pops operation," but "obviously the work of the cartels," said John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Morton did not immediately identify which drug enterprise might be responsible but said during a Wednesday press conference that "I can promise you there are some very unhappy people in the cartel."
Task force agents watching the Otay Mesa area said they followed a tractor-trailer that had been parked at a warehouse Tuesday and alerted border patrol agents to stop it at a traffic checkpoint about 65 miles north in Temecula, Calif. About 10 tons of marijuana packed in large cargo boxes were inside the trailer, agents said.
The driver and passenger -- whose identities were not released but were described as husband and wife -- were arrested on federal drug smuggling charges, according to federal officials.
A search of the warehouse Tuesday night found another 15 tons of marijuana wrapped in cellophane and bundled on pallets and uncovered an opening cut into a concrete floor that led to the tunnel, said agents.
They alerted Mexican military officials, who found another four tons of marijuana at the building in Tijuana, according to the U.S. account.
The San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which continued its investigation Thursday, includes agents from ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
Mary Pat Flaherty
| November 5, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: Around the Nation, Mary Pat Flaherty, Narcotics
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