A tunnel found in San Diego was more than four football fields long, 20-feet deep and fully ventilated. The drug-smuggling corridor entrances were located in two warehouses that straddled the U.S./Mexico border.
A multi-agency border tunnel task force discovered the sophisticated passageway yesterday, number 75 in the last four years, when surveillance of the warehouse drew suspicious concerns from law enforcement. Once officials executed a federal search warrant, authorities discovered a 20-foot hole in the warehouse and recovered approximately 6 1/2 additional tons of marijuana. U.S. agents then alerted Mexican officials that the tunnel led to another warehouse in Tijuana, Mexico where they recovered approximately six tons of cannabis.
The tunnel, measuring approximately four feet by three feet, contained structural supports, electricity as well as ventilation. Authorities said evidence inside the tunnel suggested the passageway was only recently completed.
A suspicious cargo truck leaving the border region warehouse prompted California Highway Patrol to pull over the vehicle where they found three tons of marijuana in the trailer. Officers apprehended the driver, Cesar Beltran-Zamoran, and passenger, Ruben Gomez-Hernandez who face federal narcotics smuggling charges, according to officials. Gomez told authorities he would receive $2,000 to smuggle the marijuana into the U.S.
“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 ICE 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 San Diego tunnel represents the third such passageway detected this year and reveals U.S. officials continue to fight drug smuggling along the southern border.
“The fact that this is the third sophisticated cross border tunnel found within a year's time demonstrates the cartels will stop at nothing to smuggle their drugs into the United States,” said William R. Sherman, acting special agent in charge for the DEA in San Diego. “The seizure of marijuana coupled with the loss of yet another tunnel will deal a heavy blow to those responsible for constructing this tunnel.”
The tunnel is the sixth largest drug smuggling passageway discovered in San Diego since 2006.
The San Diego Tunnel Task Force includes representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
The multi-agency group uses a variety of techniques to detect cross-border tunnels, from state-of-the-art electronic surveillance to old school detective work. The group also relies on tips from the public to protect the border region from criminal activity.
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