- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

Two Mexican nationals have been extradited to the United States to face cocaine trafficking and firearms charges in connection with a tunnel found under the Arizona-Mexico border in 1999 and used by drug smugglers, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum, who heads the agency’s Phoenix-Tucson field office, said Francisco Valle-Hurtado, 37, and Ruben Ultreras-Estrada, 37, both of Naco, Sonora, Mexico, were returned to Texas Wednesday and face a hearing Monday before U.S. Magistrate Nancy Stein Nowak on their removal to Arizona.

Judge Nowak remanded both men to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service during an initial court appearance.

“The drug trade has become a losing proposition for traffickers: They will not only get caught and extradited to face American justice, but they will also be stripped of their drug proceeds,” Mr. Landrum said. “We know that cocaine, like so many drugs, isn’t confined to one nation.”

A federal grand jury indictment in the case in Tucson said Mr. Valle-Hurtado and Mr. Ultreras-Estrada conspired to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine. Additionally, it said Mr. Valle-Hurtado illegally possessed a firearm and intended to distribute more than a ton of cocaine in each of three separate instances.

The 10-foot-deep tunnel linked a mobile home in Naco, Ariz., with the back yard of a house in Naco, Sonora, more than 200 feet south. Law-enforcement authorities said the tunnel may have operated for several years, serving as a conduit for the shipment of marijuana, cocaine and money between the United States and Mexico.

On Dec. 4, agents of the Mexican Agencia Federal de Investigacion arrested Mr. Valle-Hurtado and Mr. Ultreras-Estrada in Naco and Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, on warrants associated with the Tucson indictment. The Mexican government, at the request of the U.S. government, had issued provisional arrest warrants for both defendants.

Mr. Valle-Hurtado and Mr. Ultreras-Estrada remained in Mexican custody pending adjudication of the United States’ request for their extradition. On Wednesday, the Mexican government approved the transfer of both men to the United States to stand trial on the charges in the indictment, and they were transported from Mexico to San Antonio.

If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life in prison and fines totaling nearly $5 million.

Forty-eight other persons have been charged in the case, 39 of whom have been convicted in the case. The ring leader was identified as William B. Dillon, who was sentenced to 25 years. He was arrested in 2002 by Mexican authorities, who then turned him over to U.S. officials.

Seven co-defendants remain at large, and two were dismissed from the case.

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