Monday, July 25, 2005

Feds Shut Down Drug-Smuggling Tunnel

Lynden, Wash. (AP) --

The loads of dirt coming out of the boarded-up hut perplexed Canadian border guards. So did the loads of construction materials going in. Acting on a hunch that the activity wasn't legitimate, the guards tipped off investigators, who found that the hut was a starting point for an elaborate, 360-foot drug-smuggling tunnel beneath the U.S.-Canadian border.

On Thursday, authorities said they have shut down the tunnel — the first such passageway discovered along the nation's northern edge — and arrested five people on marijuana trafficking charges.

"They were smart enough to build a sophisticated tunnel," U.S. Attorney John McKay said in this border town about 90 miles north of Seattle. "They weren't smart enough to not get caught."

The tunnel ran from the hut on the Canadian side and ended under the living room of a home on the U.S. side, 300 feet from the border. Built with lumber, concrete and metal bars, it was equipped with lights and ventilation, and ran underneath a highway.

The passageway was 3 1/2 to 4 feet high and wide, and ran anywhere from 3 to 10 feet below ground, authorities said.

U.S. officials were trying to locate the owner of the house on the U.S. side. "We know who that individual is. We are very interested in speaking with him," McKay said.

Authorities had been monitoring construction of the tunnel for six months and had allowed its operators to make at least a few trips — all under surveillance — before sealing the passage Wednesday, McKay said.

Although numerous smuggling tunnels have been found on the U.S.-Mexican border, this was the first discovered along the border with Canada, he said.

Canadian authorities learned of the tunnel in February and alerted U.S. officials.
Pat Fogarty, a law enforcement official in British Columbia, said Canadian border guards "saw dirt going out and construction materials going in. They thought it was something we should check out."

On July 2, U.S. agents entered the home on the American side to examine the passageway. They later installed cameras and listening devices in the home.

"We were in there before it was completed. There was not a day they did anything that we weren't assessing them," said Greg Gassett, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
Francis Devandra Raj, 30; Timothy Woo, 34; and Jonathan Valenzuela, 27, of Surrey, British Columbia, were arrested Wednesday. They were charged with conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana.

The three appeared in court Thursday to hear the charges against them but did not enter pleas.

Raj owns the property under the hut. Woo was a fugitive in a 1999 marijuana case in Seattle, authorities said.

On July 16, two other people were arrested separately in Washington state for transporting marijuana that had come through the tunnel, Gassett said.

One was a woman who had 93 pounds of marijuana in her vehicle when she was stopped, authorities said. The other was a man pulled over with 110 pounds of the drug.

Drug News + Drugs + smuggling + Marijuana + Canada


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