The secret passage from Tijuana to San Diego had rail and ventilation systems, electricity and fortified walls, authorities said. It was discovered near the Otai-Mesa border crossing in San Diego in an area where more than a dozen other complex tunnels have been found over the past two decades.
U.S. officials say it is unknown how long the tunnel has been operating and how many drugs, if any, have gone through it unnoticed. In connection with the investigation, they seized 1,762 pounds (799 kg) of cocaine, 165 pounds (75 kg) of metamymatam and 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) of heroin.
Six people between the ages of 31 and 55 have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. All residents of Southern California.
The tunnel is located on one of the most fortified sections of the border, illustrating the limitations of the border wall of former President Donald Trump. Although considered effective against small, rough-built tunnels called “gophers,” the walls don’t match the more complex passages that run deeper underground.
The last pass, discovered on Friday, ran one-third of a mile (532 m) to Tijuana. It was 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter and about six stories deep.
The type of drugs seized may indicate the abolition of the multi-ton loads of marijuana that were common in discoveries before California legalized the container for recreational use in 2019.
Heavy drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl, usually pass through official border crossings from Mexico because their small size and lack of odor make it difficult to detect them. But tunnels give smugglers the advantage of being able to transport huge loads at lightning speed.
The tunnel came out of the United States in an inconspicuous warehouse called “Amistad Park” on a street that is busy with big semi-trailers during the day but quiet at night. On Monday, armed guards watched a small mine with a ladder descending into the tunnel.
After inspecting the house, which was recently used for drug storage, officials began stopping vehicles that were there or in a warehouse near the border, exposing boxes full of cocaine, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in San Diego.
The federal prosecutor’s office said they raided the property, finding no other drugs in the warehouse, but only a hole in the tunnel carved into the cement floor.
Authorities have discovered about 15 complex tunnels on the California-Mexico border since 2006.
Many tunnels, including those announced Monday, are located in the Otai Mesa industrial zone in San Diego, where clay soil promotes digging and warehouses provide cover.
Border crossings date back to the early 1990s and were used mainly for smuggling multi-ton marijuana shipments. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2020 that they are typically located in California and Arizona and are linked to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel.
Authorities refused to link the last tunnel to a specific cartel. They claimed victory despite not knowing how long it lasted.
“There is no more light at the end of this drug tunnel,” said Randy Grossman, U.S. Attorney for Southern California. “We are eliminating every underground smuggling route we find to prevent illegal drugs from entering our streets and destroying our families and communities.”
Under federal law, U.S. authorities must fill tunnels from the U.S. with concrete once they are detected.
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Associated Press writer Eugene Johnson of Seattle contributed.
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