US authorities announced Monday the discovery of a major drug smuggling tunnel – which runs the length of six football fields – from Mexico to a warehouse in an industrial area in the US.
The secret passage from Tijuana to San Diego contained rail and ventilation systems, electricity and reinforced walls, authorities said. It was discovered near the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego in an area where more than a dozen other advanced tunnels have been found over the past two decades.
The US authorities said it is not known how long the tunnel has been in operation and what amount of drugs, if any, went undetected. They seized 1,762 pounds of cocaine, 165 pounds of meth and 3.5 pounds of heroin in connection with the investigation.
Six people, ages 31 to 55, were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. All are residents of Southern California.
The tunnel is located in one of the most fortified parts of the border, illustrating the limitations of boundary walls. While considered effective against small, rough-built tunnels called “gopher holes,” walls are no match for more sophisticated passageways that run deeper underground.
The final passage, discovered Friday, ran a third of a mile to Tijuana. It was 4 feet in diameter and about six stories deep.
The type of drugs seized may indicate a shift from the tons of marijuana commonly found in discoveries before California legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2019.
Hard drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl, are commonly smuggled from Mexico through official border crossings because of their small size and lack of odor making them difficult to detect. But tunnels give smugglers the advantage of being able to transport huge loads at lightning speed.
The tunnel left the United States in a nondescript warehouse called “Amistad Park” on a street that’s busy with large trailers during the day, but quiet at night. On Monday, armed guards guarded a small shaft with a ladder descending into the tunnel.
After evicting a house recently used to hide drugs, officials began making traffic stops for vehicles that had been there or at a warehouse near the border, finding boxes full of cocaine, according to a federal criminal complaint filed. in San Diego.
They raided the property and found no other drugs in the warehouse but a tunnel opening carved into the cement floor, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities have found about 15 advanced tunnels on California’s border with Mexico since 2006.
Many tunnels, including the one announced Monday, are located in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial area, where clayey soil is conducive to digging and warehouse cover.
Dating back to the early 1990s, the cross-border passages were mainly used to smuggle tons of marijuana. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2020 that they are generally found in California and Arizona and associated with the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.
The authorities refused to link the last tunnel to a specific cartel. They claimed victory despite not knowing how long it had been in operation.
“There is no light at the end of this narco tunnel,” said Randy Grossman, the US attorney for the Southern District of California. “We will shut down any underground smuggling route we find to prevent illegal drugs from reaching our streets and destroying our families and communities.”
Federal law requires US authorities to fill the US side of tunnels with concrete after they are discovered.