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San Diego drug tunnel discovered in Otay Mesa warehouse linking Tijuana home, over 1,000 pounds of cocaine seized

SAN DIEGO — U.S. authorities announced on Monday the discovery of a major drug trafficking tunnel on the Mexican border, stretching the length of a football field on U.S. soil to a warehouse in an industrial area. .

The secret passage from Tijuana to San Diego featured rail and ventilation systems, electrical and reinforced walls, authorities said. It was discovered near the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego, in an area where more than a dozen other sophisticated tunnels have been discovered over the past two decades.

US authorities said it was not known how long the tunnel had been in operation and how much, if any, of the drugs passed undetected. They seized 1,762 pounds (799 kg) of cocaine, 165 pounds (75 kg) of methamphetamine and 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) of heroin as part of the investigation.

Six people, aged 31 to 55, have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. All are Southern California residents.

The tunnel sits in one of the most heavily fortified stretches of the border, illustrating the boundaries of former President Donald Trump’s border wall. While considered effective against small, crudely constructed tunnels called “gopher holes”, the walls are no match for more sophisticated passages that go deeper underground.

The last pass, discovered on Friday, ran a third of a mile (532 m) to Tijuana. It was 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter and about six stories deep.

The type of drugs seized may signal a change from the multi-ton loads of marijuana that were often discovered before California legalized recreational pot in 2019.

Hard drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl, are usually smuggled through official border crossings from Mexico because their small size and lack of smell make them difficult to detect. But the tunnels give smugglers the advantage of being able to transport huge loads at lightning speed.

The tunnel came out of the United States to some nondescript warehouse named “Amisstad Park” on a street busy with big tractor-trailers during the day but quiet at night. On Monday, armed guards guarded a small shaft with a ladder leading down into the tunnel.

After staking out a house that was recently used to hide drugs, authorities began stopping traffic from vehicles in it or a warehouse near the border, revealing boxes full of cocaine, according to a criminal complaint federally filed in San Diego.

They raided the properties – finding no other drugs in the warehouse, but a tunnel opening dug into the cement floor, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities have discovered about 15 sophisticated tunnels on California’s border with Mexico since 2006.

Many of the tunnels, including the one announced Monday, are in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial area, where clay soil is suitable for digging and warehouses provide cover.

Cross-border crossings date back to the early 1990s and were primarily used for smuggling multi-ton shipments of marijuana. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2020 that they are usually located in California and Arizona and are associated with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel.

Authorities have refused to link the latest tunnel to a specific cartel. They claimed victory without knowing how long it had been running.

“There is no more light at the end of this narco-tunnel,” said Randy Grossman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. “We will remove any underground smuggling routes we find to prevent illegal drugs from reaching our streets and destroying our families and communities.”

Federal law requires US authorities to fill the US side of the tunnels with concrete after they are discovered.


Associated Press writer Eugene Johnson in Seattle contributed.

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