San Diego – US authorities announced Monday the discovery of a smuggling tunnel on the border with Mexico that is about six football fields long and leads to a warehouse in an industrial area of the United States.
The secret passage from Tijuana to San Diego had rails, ventilation systems, electricity and reinforced walls, authorities said. It was discovered near the Otay Mesa border crossing, in 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.RELATED
Six people, ages 31 to 55, were charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine. All six reside in Southern 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.
Though considered effective against small, crudely constructed tunnels called “mole holes,” walls are not effective against more sophisticated passages that run deeper.
The tunnel discovered Friday stretched a third of a mile (532 meters) to Tijuana. Its diameter was 1.2 meters (4 feet) and it was located about six stories deep.
The type of drugs seized could signal a change from the multi-ton shipments of marijuana that were often discovered before California legalized recreational use 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 US side, the exit of the tunnel was in an inconspicuous warehouse called “Amistad Park”, on a street with a lot of truck activity 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 about 15 sophisticated tunnels on California’s border with Mexico since 2006.
Most of the tunnels, including the one announced Monday, are in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial zone, where clay-like soil makes digging easy and warehouses 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 often found in California and Arizona, and that they are linked to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel.
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, US authorities must fill the US side of the tunnels with concrete once they are discovered.