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Sophisticated Cross-Border Tunnel Discovered In Otay Mesa

This photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Oct. 31, 2...

Credit: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Above: This photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Oct. 31, 2013 shows a drug-smuggling tunnel linking warehouses in Tijuana and San Diego.

Three people were arrested in connection to a sophisticated cross-border tunnel discovered in Otay Mesa on Wednesday night.

The San Diego Tunnel Task Force discovered a sophisticated cross-border tunnel Wednesday between San Diego and Tijuana.

Photo credit: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

San Diego Tunnel Task Force agents and local authorities seized more than 8 tons of marijuana and 325 pounds of cocaine, marking the first time cocaine has been recovered in connection with a local drug tunnel.

The underground passageway linked warehouses in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial park and Tijuana, Mexico. Officials with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force said it was equipped with electricity, ventilation and a rail system.

Agents seized more than eight tons of marijuana and 320 pounds of cocaine. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said it's the first time cocaine has been found in connection with a drug tunnel.

Tunnels have become a major tactic to smuggle drugs across the border as U.S. officials have increased enforcement on land. Eight major tunnels have been discovered along the San Diego border since 2006.

"If (drug cartels) build them, we're going to find them,'' said Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. "And if we find them, we will destroy them.''

Narcotics traffickers spent years and tens and millions of dollars in vain on the "super tunnel'' that was shuttered this week, and they likely will do the same in the future, Duffy told reporters during a late-afternoon briefing led by officials with various federal agencies near the site of the latest discovery.

"But these cartels are foolish to think they are shoveling under the radar,'' she said.

The painstakingly built underground passage was newly completed and apparently had yet to be used as a smuggling avenue when it was uncovered, said Bill Sherman, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego Field Division.

"I think we're 100 percent confident as a group here (that) they did not move one gram of drugs through that tunnel,'' Sherman said.

The arrestees -- identified as Jose Arturo-Mendoza, Juan Pena-Osuna and Roman Ramos Romero -- likely will be arraigned in federal court in San Diego on Friday, according to Duffy. The suspects' ages and places of residence were not immediately available.

Investigators got wind of the newly built tunnel early this month from a confidential informant, and the information led them to a warehouse in the 9100 block of Siempre Viva Road in San Diego and a second one in the 1600 block of Brandywine Avenue in Chula Vista, according to court documents.

Last Saturday, police pulled over a truck that had been under surveillance in the case, according to federal officials. Inside it, officers found some three tons of marijuana.

Following the seizure, investigators continued to monitor the two storage buildings. On Wednesday, San Diego police conducted a traffic stop on a van investigators had seen leaving the Otay Mesa facility and found the haul of cocaine, officials said.

Later that day, investigators served search warrants at both locations, recovering more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana at the Otay Mesa facility and seizing another 8,900 pounds of the leafy drug at the other storehouse.

The arrests and seizures were the latest developments in an ongoing probe by multiple U.S. agencies, including the DEA, ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol, with support from the San Diego and Chula Vista police departments, as well as the California National Guard.


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