A drug tunnel that was so sophisticated it had an electric rail line, lighting and a ventilation system was uncovered near the border this week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced.
It was a tunnel straight out of the show Weeds. And for the first time, federal authorities said, cocaine smuggling was positively connected to a border tunnel. There was weed involved too, of course:
In fact 17,292 pounds of marijuana and 325 pounds of cocaine were seized as part of the investigation into the tunnel that ran the length of six football fields from Otay Mesa southeast of San Diego to Tijuana, ICE agents said.
Much of the loot was found in trucks leaving or trying to leave two locations connected to the tunnel, they said. The drugs were worth about $12 million, according to ICE.
Three suspects were were nabbed in connection with the investigation and would likely face federal drug charges, authorities said.
This is how the bust unfolded, according to an ICE statement:
The initial enforcement action leading up to the shuttering of the tunnel occurred mid-day Saturday when a box truck that had been under surveillance by investigators was pulled over by the Chula Vista police for traffic violations. Police officers subsequently discovered approximately three tons of marijuana concealed inside.
Following that initial seizure, investigators continued to monitor activity at the Otay Mesa building thought to house the tunnel's U.S. entrance, and at a second warehouse in Chula Vista also allegedly being used by the criminal organization to stockpile marijuana. Late Wednesday, investigators executed search warrants at both locations.
Inside the Otay Mesa facility they recovered more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana. At the Chula Vista warehouse on Brandywine Ave. investigators seized another 8,900 pounds of marijuana, much of it loaded in a box truck that was attempting to depart the property. The cocaine was recovered earlier Wednesday after the San Diego Police Department conducted a traffic stop on a van investigators had previously observed leaving the Otay Mesa facility.
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Authorities contended that the tunnel was new and suggested that none of the drugs that went through it would see the streets of America.
The U.S. Attorney in San Diego, Laura Duffy, told reporters yesterday that the tunnel is likely the work of a major drug cartel. In a statement, she also spiked the football, saying:
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The cartels have spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying in vain to create an underworld of secret passageways to move huge quantities of drugs at will. We have a message for the builders, financiers and operators of these sophisticated tunnels: if you continue to go underground, you will find your world collapsing around you.
Call us skeptical, though. Those three suspects they arrested probably know little about the operation, by design, and there's always the next tunnel. This is not the first time one has been discovered.
Or maybe we just watch too much TV.