April 20, 2016
Contact: Kameron Korte
Phone Number: (858) 616-4100
Feds Seize Longest Tunnel On California-Mexico Border
Six arrested; unprecedented amount of cocaine confiscated
SAN DIEGO - Federal officials have seized what is believed to be the longest cross-border tunnel ever discovered with an estimated length of more than eight football fields, plus more than a ton of cocaine was confiscated, making it the single-largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel along the California-Mexico border.
The tunnel is estimated to be more than 800 yards in length, and probably longer due to its zig-zagging route. It stretches from a house in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico to an outdoor fenced-in commercial lot in an Otay Mesa industrial park, about 500 yards north of the international border. The tunnel exit on the U.S. side is a three-foot-diameter hole that at one point was covered by a jumbo-sized industrial dumpster.
It is equipped with rail and ventilation systems, lights and a sophisticated large elevator leading from the tunnel into a closet inside the Tijuana residence. It is one of the narrowest tunnels found to date, with a diameter of just three feet for most of the length of the passageway.
“We know that drug trafficking organizations are using any and all means to get their contraband across the US/Mexican Border,” said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman. “Historically, seizures from drug tunnels have been marijuana and small amounts of cocaine. A 2,000 pound cocaine seizure tells DEA and our law enforcement partners that these groups are having to resort to unsophisticated tunnels to try and push through what amounts to a $22 million loss just in cocaine alone. This loss is a devastating blow even to an established drug trafficking organization.”
Six people were arrested in San Diego Friday and charged by federal complaint with various drug trafficking and tunnel-related charges, including conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and conspiracy to use a border tunnel.
The defendants include Martiniano Garcia-Sedano, Cruz Armando Parra Corrales, Alejandro Bravo, Juan Carlos Chavez Fabian, Alejandro Gomez-Baez and Osmel Martinez. They were arraigned in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major and remain in custody pending detention hearings.
On April 12, agents saw a white commercial truck deliver an industrial dumpster to a lot in Otay Mesa on Marconi Drive and Enrico Fermi Drive. The agents saw the truck back up and, with direction from some of the defendants, drop the dumpster over a specific area that was later discovered to have a hole descending 10 feet into the ground and connecting to an underground tunnel leading to the U.S. Mexico border. Agents noticed the dumpster appeared to be filled with wood scraps.
The next day, agents saw two people cover the dumpster with a tarp. Ten minutes later, a forklift removed stacks of wooden pallets away from the front of the dumpster. Agents watched as defendant Cruz Armando Parra Corrales got down on the ground in a push-up position with his face close to the bottom of the dumpster, in an area where the dumpster connects to the truck, apparently communicating with someone who was inside the dumpster or inside a tunnel below the dumpster.
Soon after that, the truck loaded up the dumpster and transported it to another parking lot on Imperial Avenue near 30th Street, where it was unloaded. Another large box truck was backed up next to the dumpster with its cargo door open. Agents conducting surveillance watched as the defendants placed a tarp between the dumpster and box truck, and then moved back and forth between them. A couple of hours later, the box truck was driven out of the parking lot.
San Diego County sheriff’s deputies stopped the box truck and found 2,242 pounds of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of marijuana.
Federal agents obtained warrants to search the lots and found the tunnel exit. Inside the tunnel they found
68 bales of marijuana weighing 1,638 pounds. The exit was found at the exact location where agents had previously observed Garcia unload the dumpster from the roll off truck, with the assistance of Parra and Bravo. Agents also found an additional 1,430 pounds of marijuana in the dumpster.
In total, authorities seized 2,242 pounds of cocaine and more than 14,000 pounds of marijuana.
The tunnel dismantled in Otay Mesa is the 13th large-scale operational drug smuggling tunnel discovered along the California border since 2006. In the last five years, federal authorities have detected more than
75 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona.
Agencies involved in the investigation were Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, US Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations Internal Revenue Service, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department and the California Highway Patrol.
For visuals, please refer to link below