US authorities announced Monday the discovery of a smuggling tunnel on the border with Mexico that is the length of about six football fields and reaches a warehouse in an industrial area of USA.
The secret passage from Tijuana until San Diego it had rails, ventilation systems, electricity and reinforced walls, authorities said. It was discovered near the border crossing of Otay Tablein an area where other sophisticated tunnels have been found in the last two decades.
US authorities said it is unknown how long the tunnel was in operation and how much, if any, drug was smuggled in undetected. Agents seized 799 kilograms (1,762 pounds) of cocaine, 75 kilograms (165 pounds) of methamphetamine, and 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) of heroin as a result of the investigation.
Six people, ages 31 to 55, were charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine. All six reside in the south of California.
Construction of the tunnel took place on one of the most heavily armored stretches of the border, illustrating the limitations of former President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Although they are considered effective against small, crudely constructed tunnels calleds”mole holes”, the walls are not effective against the more sophisticated passages that run deeper.
The tunnel discovered Friday stretched 532 meters (a third of a mile) to Tijuana. Its diameter was 1.2 meters (4 feet) and it was located about six stories deep.
The type of drugs seized could indicate a change from the multi-ton shipments of marijuana that were often discovered before California legalize its use for recreational purposes in 2019.
Hard drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and fetanyl are often smuggled through official border crossings from Mexico because their small size and lack of odor make them difficult to detect. But the tunnels give smugglers the advantage of moving huge loads at high speed.
On the American side, the exit from the tunnel was in an inconspicuous warehouse named “Friendship Park”, on a busy street with freight trucks during the day, but quiet at night. On Monday, armed guards guarded a small shaft with a ladder leading down into the tunnel.
After surveilling a house that had recently been used to store drugs, agents began stopping vehicles that had been there or at a warehouse near the border, finding boxes full of cocaine, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. Court. district of San Diego.
They searched the properties and found no other drugs in the warehouse, but did find an entrance to a tunnel dug into the concrete floor, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities have found some 15 sophisticated tunnels on the border of California con Mexico since 2006.
Most of the tunnels, including the one announced Monday, are in the Otay Mesa industrial zone in San Diegowhere the clay-type soil facilitates excavation and the cellars provide cover.
Cross-border tunnels date back to the 1990s and have been used primarily to smuggle tons of marijuana.
The DEA said in 2020 that the tunnels are usually found in California and Arizona, and that they are linked to the Mexican cartel of Sinaloa.
Authorities declined to link the latest tunnel to a specific cartel. They declared victory despite not knowing how long it had been in operation.
“There is no more light at the end of this drug tunnel”said Randy Grossman, US Attorney for the Southern District of California. “We will shut down every underground smuggling route we find to prevent illegal drugs from reaching our streets and destroying our families and communities.”
Under federal law, law enforcement USA they must fill the US side of the tunnels with concrete once discovered.