Federal law enforcement officers discovered an elaborate tunnel they say was used to smuggle just under a ton of cocaine from Mexico to a warehouse in Southern California.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced Monday the discovery of the underground passageway, as well as charges against six people allegedly involved in a drug trafficking ring. Prosecutors say this is not the first illicit tunnel they have uncovered, as law enforcement has been on the lookout for efforts by drug traffickers to evade customs by digging underground.
Federal prosecutors say the tunnel is approximately 1,744 feet long and connects Tijuana, Mexico, with a warehouse in San Diego that is just east of the Port of Entry. At 61 feet deep and 4 feet in diameter, prosecutors said the tunnel has reinforced walls, a rail system, electricity and even a ventilation system.
“The San Diego law enforcement community has multiple investigative task forces that prioritize tunnel detection,” San Diego Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz said in a statement.
Department of Homeland Security investigators discovered the tunnel shortly after midnight while conducting surveillance at a residence in National City, a small port city located between San Diego and Tijuana, that had previously been used as a “safe house,” according to the US Attorney’s Office.
That same day, investigators saw Luz de Luna Olmos and Vanessa Ramirez leave the house in a silver Nissan Frontier pickup, according to prosecutors. Investigators watched as they picked up large cardboard boxes and carts on wheels, which are typically used to move heavy items, prosecutors say.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. local time, prosecutors say Ramirez drove the truck from the house to a warehouse located about 300 feet north of the US-Mexico border fence. There, Ramirez drove the truck into the warehouse bay with the roll-up door immediately closed behind her, according to prosecutors.
Ramirez returned to the house about two hours later in the truck as police continued to search for her, prosecutors say. Later that afternoon and evening, police saw another five cars drive in and out of the residence, the warehouse, or both, according to prosecutors.
“In a span of a few hours, officers observed five vehicles going to and from the stash house and this warehouse, we allege the defendants entering the garage and loading or leaving cardboard boxes filled with drugs to further the movement. or distribution. across the United States, federal agents were watching all the time,” US Attorney Randy Grossman told ABC affiliate KGTV.
Law enforcement officers stopped the vehicles, seized drugs and arrested the drivers, according to prosecutors. At the warehouse, law enforcement found what they called a “sophisticated cross-border tunnel exit point carved into the cement floor.”
Authorities seized 1,762 pounds of cocaine, 164 pounds of methamphetamine and 3.5 pounds of heroin.
Grossman told KGTV that “good old-fashioned police work” led to the discovery of the tunnel. The surveillance that led to the arrests was part of an ongoing joint task force comprised of federal and local agents.
90 underground passageways have been found in the Southern District of California since 1993, 27 of which are considered “sophisticated,” according to the US Attorney’s Office. The most recent was found in March 2020.
Federal agents previously found a large tunnel near the location of former President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall in 2019. Last year, US and Mexican authorities found a “huge” tunnel complete with its own rail tracks. The infamous drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán also used a tunnel to escape from prison.
In addition to Luna Olmos and Ramírez, prosecutors have also charged Mario Jaramillo, Adrián Enríquez, Manuel Pérez and Juan Cruz with multiple drug distribution charges. It is not clear if they are represented by lawyers. They face a mandatory minimum of 10 years, with a maximum of life in prison and a $1 million fine.