Agents with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force and Mexican authorities recently shut down the 10th large-scale drug smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006. In the last five years, federal authorities have detected more than 80 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona.
Described as “one of the longest and most sophisticated smuggling tunnels ever discovered along the US-Mexico border, 12 tons of marijuana were seized and 22 suspects were arrested.
The bales of marijuana appeared identical in size and packaging to six hay-bale-sized bundles of marijuana worth an estimated $300,000 discovered in July 2010 hidden in cars for importation into the US on one of the many freight trains from Mexica that must pass inspection at the Nogales, Arizona Customs and Border Protection Port of Entry (PoE).
The bales were encased in lead sheets, the first time such bundles of pot had been found at the Nogales PoE wrapped in lead. Port officials told Homeland Security Today at the time they couldn’t explain why the pot was encased in the lead sheets, noting that it was the first time they’d encountered such wrapping.
The freight trains that enter and exit the port are subjected to backscatter imaging. It was with such imaging CBP officers were able to identify the six bales of pot wrapped in the lead sheets. The bales “lit up on imaging like a Christmas tree,” said one of the port officials involved in locating the marijuana.
The tunnel discovered late last month extends the length of approximately eight footballs fields from a warehouse in Tijuana to a building in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial park, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said The reinforced passageway features lighting, ventilation equipment and a rail cart transportation system.
The discovery and closure of the tunnel followed a six-month undercover probe conducted by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, spearheaded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
“Agents on the HSI-led Tunnel Task force in San Diego have once again dismantled a sophisticated cross-border tunnel that was about to become fully operational,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge of HSI San Diego. “As this investigation makes clear, we’re focused on ensuring border security and combating the cartels’ increasingly brazen and dangerous underground smuggling strategy.”
“We see a super tunnel open for business once every year or so,” said US Attorney Laura Duffy. “Just when they think they’re ready to move, we put it out of business. We continue to make good on our promise to relentlessly pursue and shutdown any tunnel as soon as it opens.”
ICE said the Otay Mesa warehouse that concealed the tunnel’s US entrance contained a large room cluttered with boxes, tile and carpet remnants. From the entry point, the tunnel’s shaft plunged more than 30 feet, with no mechanism for ascending or descending into the corridor.
“On the US side, investigators recovered two tons of marijuana and made six arrests,” ICE stated. “Two of the defendants – Isaias Enriquez-Acosta, 53, of Tijuana, Mexico, and Isidro Silva-Acosta, 27, also of Tijuana – are being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. Both are charged in federal complaints with unlawful conspiracy to import a controlled substance and conspiracy to use border tunnels. The remaining four suspects, who were detained by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, face state charges.”
ICE said, “The San Diego Tunnel Task Force began investigating suspicious activity at the Otay Mesa warehouse six months ago. Authorities made the decision to proceed with the takedown after determining the tunnel had been completed. Defendant Silva was taken into custody at the tunnel site, while defendant Enriquez-Acosta was arrested at a nearby hotel.”
Photos, top 2: Bales of pot found last month in drug smuggling tunnel.
Photo bottom: Similar bales of pot wrapped in lead sheets discovered in 2010 at of Port of Nogales in Arizona hidden in cars being imported into US.