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Stakeout at National City stash house leads to sophisticated 'narco-tunnel'

Alexander Nguyen
Federal agents stand guard around a recently discovered cross-border tunnel inside an Otay Mesa warehouse, May 16, 2022.

Federal officials on Monday announced the discovery of a cross-border drug tunnel in Otay Mesa. It's the first tunnel found in Southern California since March 2020.

Agents found the tunnel shortly after midnight Friday morning after staking out a stash house in National City. The house was previously used as a stash house in a cocaine smuggling bust on March 2, said U.S. Attorney for Southern District of California Randy Grossman.

In a span of about five hours on May 12, Homeland Security Investigations agents saw five cars come and go from the National City house to the warehouse located roughly 300 feet from the U.S.-Mexico border, just east of the Otay Mesa port of entry, he said.

Alexander Nguyen
A top view of the opening of a cross-border drug tunnel in Otay Mesa, May 16, 2022.

"When the time was right, cars were stopped and they were searched. The stash house was searched, many boxes of drugs were found and the defendants were arrested," Grossman said.

Six people were arrested and agents seized 1,762 pounds of cocaine, 164 pounds of methamphetamine and 3.5 pounds of heroin, he said. Upon searching the warehouse, Grossman said agents found the tunnel exit carved out of the cement floor. Federal officials said it was a sophisticated tunnel complete with reinforced walls, a rail system, electricity and a ventilation system.

The tunnel spans about 1,744 feet, is about 61-feet deep and 4 feet wide. It ends inside a house in the Otay Delegation of Tijuana, according to Mexican officials.

"There is no light at the end of this narco tunnel," Grossman said. "We and our agency partners will continue to work zealously to take down every subterranean smuggling route and other means that drug traffickers use to bring illicit drugs into our community."

The six accused smugglers were arranged Monday afternoon with conspiracy to distribute cocaine at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. They are:

  • Mario Jaramillo, 55, of Huntington Beach;
  • Adrian Enriquez, 31, of Perris;
  • Manuel Perez, 49, of San Diego;
  • Juan Cruz, 48, of San Ysidro;
  • Vanessa Ramirez, 31, of San Diego, and
  • Luz de Luna Olmos, 43, of San Diego

Additionally, Olmos and Ramirez were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute heroin.

It was unclear how long the tunnel was in operation but the investigation is ongoing, officials said.