Tons of pot found in sophisticated cross-border tunnel

Associated Press
Posted on Thu, Jan. 26, 2006

SAN DIEGO - More than 2 tons of marijuana were found inside one of the longest and most sophisticated cross-border tunnels ever discovered, officials said Thursday.

The size and scale of the tunnel - the 21st discovered in more than four years - stunned authorities, who said that the passageway revealed the lengths smugglers will go to evade detection.

The tunnel began near the airport in Tijuana, Mexico, and ended 2,400 feet away in a San Diego warehouse, said Michael Unzueta, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego. It was unclear how long the tunnel had been in operation, Unzueta said.

At least 60 feet below U.S. soil, authorities found a tunnel floor lined with cement, lights that ran down one of the hard soil walls, and air piped down from the surface, he said. An adult could stand in the 5-foot-high shaft.

"It was like being in a cavern or a cave," Unzueta said in an interview. "It's just huge, absolutely incredible."

Mexican investigators found the tunnel entrance Tuesday inside a warehouse near the airport, about 150 yards south of the border. A 6-by-10-foot cement shaft equipped with a pulley dropped about 75 feet to the tunnel.

U.S. authorities located the exit to the tunnel Wednesday, launching a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities on both sides of the border were attempting to determine who owned the warehouses where the tunnel began and ended, Unzueta said.

More than 2 tons of marijuana were found on the tunnel's Mexican side and about 200 pounds of pot on the U.S. side, he said.

Mexican authorities allowed reporters and photographers in the tunnel late Wednesday night. Near the entrance, authorities were seen weighing bales of what appeared to be marijuana. Several hundred packages wrapped with brown packing tape were stacked about 5 feet high.

It's unclear if it was used to sneak people or drugs other than marijuana into the United States, Unzueta said.

Four tunnels have been discovered this month in the Tijuana-San Diego area.

Also Wednesday, U.S. and Mexican authorities found an unfinished tunnel when a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle struck a sinkhole early Wednesday near the San Ysidro border crossing, which links Tijuana and San Diego. It was about 2 feet underground and extended about 30 feet into the United States, near a storm drain.

"It was very, very small and extremely primitive," Mack said.

The unfinished tunnel began just south of the border in Tijuana in a vacant lot, said Jose Marquez Padilla, a Mexican Customs director. It was about 3 feet wide.