Posted on November 29, 2010

‘It’s Like Ancient Egypt’: Inside the Mexican Drugs Tunnel With Its Own Railway and Underground Warehouses With 20 Tons of Marijuana

Daily Mail (London), November 27, 2010

A sophisticated cross-border tunnel–equipped with a rail system, ventilation and fluorescent lighting–has been shut down by U.S. and Mexican officials.

It is the second such tunnel discovered in San Diego this month, authorities said today.

The tunnel is 2,200 feet long and runs from the kitchen of a home in Tijuana, Mexico, to two warehouses in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial district.

Mike Unzueta, head of investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego, said the cinderblock-lined entry to the tunnel dropped 80 to 90 feet to a wood-lined floor.

From the U.S. side, there was a stairway leading to a room about 50 feet underground that was full of marijuana.

Mr Unzueta said: ‘It’s a lot like how the ancient Egyptians buried the kings and queens.’

Authorities seized more than 20 tons of marijuana, and Mr Unzueta said the tunnel–and another found in early November–are the work of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, headed by the country’s most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.

Mr Unzueta said: ‘We think ultimately they are controlled by the same overall cartel but that the tunnels were being managed and run independently by different cells operating within the same organisation.’

The newly discovered passage is one of the most advanced to date, with sophisticated construction and a rail system for drugs to be carried on a small cart.

Three men were arrested in the United States, and the Mexican military raided a ranch in Mexico and made five arrests in connection with the tunnel, authorities said.

U.S. authorities have discovered more than 125 clandestine tunnels along the Mexican border since the early 1990s, though many were crude and incomplete.

U.S. authorities do not know how long the latest tunnel was operating. Mr Unzueta said investigators began to look into several warehouses in June on a tip that emerged from a large bust of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

U.S. authorities followed a trailer from one of the warehouses to a Border Patrol checkpoint in Temecula, where they seized 27,600 pounds of marijuana.

The driver, whose name was not released, was arrested, along with two others who went to a residence in suburban El Cajon that had $13,500 cash inside.

Mr Unzueta said: ‘That [trailer] was literally filled top to bottom, front to back. There wasn’t any room for anything else in that tractor-trailer but air.’

Three tons of marijuana were found in a ‘subterranean room’ and elsewhere in the tunnel on the U.S. side, authorities said.

Mexican officials seized four tons of pot at a ranch in northern Mexico, bringing the total haul to more than 20 tons.

The discovery of the cross-border tunnel earlier this month marked one of the largest marijuana seizures in the United States, with agents confiscating 20 tons of marijuana they said was smuggled through the underground passage.

One of the warehouses involved in the tunnel discovered this week is only a half-block away. Several sophisticated tunnels have ended in San Diego warehouses.