- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

A U.S. law enforcement task force has uncovered a 600-yard-long tunnel connecting a warehouse in California with one in Mexico, saying nearly 30 tons of marijuana worth about $20 million was brought through it to the United States or was waiting to be hauled.

Amy Roderick, spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), described the tunnel as a crawl-space-sized passageway connecting an Otay Mesa, Calif., warehouse with a similar building in Tijuana, Mexico. She said the tunnel was equipped with rail, lighting and ventilation systems and, based on preliminary indications, was probably completed very recently.

“I applaud the efforts of this skilled multiagency task force of tenacious agents from DEA, ICE, Border Patrol and California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement who uncovered this elaborate smuggling scheme leading to the massive marijuana haul and tunnel discovery,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

“Not only will this seizure significantly disrupt the responsible cartel by stripping from it millions in potential drug profits, but it will also keep this dangerous and addictive drug off our streets and out of our neighborhoods,” she said.

While conducting surveillance in the Otay Mesa area Wednesday, task force agents observed suspicious activity involving a tractor-trailer truck parked at the warehouse where the tunnel entrance was later discovered, Ms. Roderick said.

After the truck left the location, she said agents kept it under surveillance, alerting the Border Patrol as it approached the traffic checkpoint in Temecula. At the traffic checkpoint, she said Border Patrol agents stopped the vehicle and a search of the truck’s trailer located 10 tons of marijuana packed in large cargo boxes.

After the seizure, she said, tunnel task force agents obtained a federal search warrant for the Otay Mesa warehouse. When they entered the building, they discovered a second cache of marijuana, weighing an estimated 15 tons, and the entrance to the cross-border tunnel.

Ms. Roderick said task force agents alerted Mexican military personnel who located the tunnel’s other entrance at a warehouse in Tijuana. Inside that building, she said, Mexican authorities recovered another 4 tons of marijuana, bringing the estimated street value of the marijuana seized in the case so far to approximately $20 million.

The discovery of the tunnel is the result of a continuing investigation by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which is made up of representatives from DEA, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol, and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.

ICE Director John Morton noted that cross-border tunnels can be used to smuggle multiple types of contraband ranging from drugs to weapons, which makes them a public safety threat.

“This discovery again shows [the drug cartels’] growing desperation in the face of heightened border security,” Mr. Morton said. “Frustrated by our defenses, they’re literally going underground, but we’re thwarting them there as well.

“That’s due in no small part to the extraordinary ongoing enforcement efforts involving the agencies on the tunnel task force and our counterparts in Mexico,” he said.

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