- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

Federal agents have arrested a Mexican national in connection with a drug-smuggling tunnel unearthed last week that linked warehouses in the United States and Mexico.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took Carlos Eugenio Cardenas-Calvillo into custody Saturday, and he made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in San Diego yesterday on charges of conspiracy to import a controlled substance.

Investigators said the charges stem from Mr. Cardenas-Calvillo’s ties to the Otay Mesa warehouse that concealed the U.S. access point for the highly sophisticated, 2,400-foot- long passageway. The tunnel was described by authorities as the largest and most advanced illegal cross-border underpass ever found.

The ongoing investigation is being carried out by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force made up of ICE, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

“As this weekend’s arrest demonstrates, our investigation is progressing very quickly,” said Miguel Unzueta, special agent-in-charge of ICE investigations in San Diego. “The task force is working tirelessly to bring those responsible for this audacious crime to justice.”

The arrest came less than 24 hours after ICE issued an alert, tersely warning that information indicated those who had been in the tunnel, or were responsible for its design or construction, could be in imminent danger. ICE urged those persons to come forward and contact the agency at any port of entry along the Mexican border.

Laden with marijuana and equipped with a pulley and ventilation system, the tunnel was six feet wide and 8 to 12 feet high. It had a cement floor and lights along the walls. The tunnel originated 85 feet under a warehouse located about 150 yards south of the border in Mexico, near the Tijuana airport, and surfaced about a half-mile north of the border in an abandoned warehouse in Otay Mesa.

ICE officials said the Otay Mesa warehouse had been leased for six months by V&F; Distributors for $247,000. V&F; is owned by Vicente Rodriguez and Fernando Avila, described as the owners of a trucking company in Mexico City.

Based on leads provided by the task force, federal police in Mexico found the tunnel after obtaining a warrant Wednesday night to search the Tijuana warehouse. Mexican authorities said the two tons of marijuana were stacked in nearly 300 bales. They said a metal ladder was used to gain entry to the packed-earth tunnel.

U.S. authorities said construction of the tunnel is thought to have begun in May 2004, becoming fully operational in November 2005.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal authorities have discovered more than 20 cross-border tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.

The tunnel task force uses an array of high-tech equipment and intelligence information to pinpoint the locations of underground passageways along the border.

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