Drug Enforcement Administration

San Diego

Karen I. Flowers, Special Agent in Charge

November 30, 2011

Contact: Kameron Korte

Phone Number: (571) 324-6204

Second Major Cross-Border Drug Tunnel Discovered South Of San Diego This Month

Investigators seize 32 tons of marijuana, arrest 6 suspects

SAN DIEGO , CA - Agencies with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force announced the arrest of six suspects and a record 32-ton marijuana seizure Wednesday in connection with the discovery of the most elaborate smuggling tunnel uncovered along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

Investigators say the passageway found Tuesday following a six-month investigation by the multi-agency Task Force connects a warehouse in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial park with one in neighboring Tijuana, Mexico. The 612-yard long passageway is equipped with electric rail cars, lighting, reinforced walls and wooden floors.

“DEA and its partners in the Tunnel Task Force, working together along with the Government of Mexico are putting a stranglehold on the cartel’s ability to smuggle drugs into the United States”, says William R. Sherman, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in San Diego. “Seizing close to 50 tons of marijuana in one month denies the cartels the financial means to continue their operations.”

On the Mexican side, the tunnel’s entrance is accessed through a hydraulically-controlled steel door and an elevator concealed beneath the warehouse floor. At the bottom of the tunnel shaft is a large storage room where agents recovered approximately three tons of marijuana. Another ton of marijuana was piled in bundles near the tunnel’s entrance. Meanwhile, investigators searched the Otay Mesa building that housed the tunnel’s U.S. entry point, where they found nearly 20 additional tons of marijuana wrapped in plastic and stacked neatly on pallets.

Task Force investigators’ entered the tunnel after enforcement actions Tuesday morning in the Los Angeles area confirmed suspicions about the passageway’s existence. The operation began unfolding Monday evening when investigators observed a tractor trailer truck leaving the Otay Mesa warehouse. After parking overnight in the Miramar area, a man picked up the rig early Tuesday and headed toward Los Angeles. Canines at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente alerted on the tractor trailer for the presence of drugs. Agents, aware of the ongoing investigation, waived the truck through the checkpoint and the driver proceeded to the City of Industry, Calif. There, he pulled into the parking lot of a warehouse located at 14837 Proctor Ave. and, together with three other individuals, began unloading the trailer’s contents.

At that point, agents moved in, taking custody of four suspects and seizing close to 11 tons of marijuana stacked inside the truck’s trailer. All told, Tuesday’s enforcement actions resulted in the interdiction of more than 32 tons of marijuana with an estimated street value of anywhere from $30 million to $35 million.

Two other suspects linked to the scheme were arrested overnight in Baldwin Park, Calif. The six defendants, all Hispanic males, are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court in San Diego Wednesday afternoon.

Federal officials say based upon their ongoing investigation, they believe this latest tunnel had only recently become operational.

The investigation into this latest cross-border passageway is being conducted by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force. The Task Force is made up of representatives from ICE HSI, U.S. Customs and Border (CBP) Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement (DEA), and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Formed in 2003, the Task Force uses a variety of techniques to detect cross-border tunnels, from state-of-the-art electronic surveillance to old fashioned detective work. That includes following up on tips, many of which come from the public.

Tuesday’s tunnel is the second major cross-border smuggling passageway detected in the San Diego area in the last two weeks. The Tunnel Task Force uncovered another tunnel Nov. 15 that came up inside a warehouse near the Otay Mesa border crossing. That enforcement action resulted in the seizure of more than 14 tons of marijuana. In the last four years, federal authorities have detected more than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona. The passageway uncovered Tuesday is the seventh large-scale drug smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006.
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