Monday, January 30, 2006

Pot Hole: Marijuana Found Under Border

CBS News

(CBS/AP) Authorities said they discovered more than two tons of marijuana in a cross-border tunnel that began near the Tijuana airport and ended inside a warehouse on the U.S. side.

The 2,400-foot long passageway is longer than most of the 21 cross-border tunnels that have been discovered since authorities began keeping track after the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.

The tunnel "is about 8 football fields long," said Michael Unzueta, customs special agent in charge in San Diego.

"It was like being in a cavern or a cave," he said.

John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, said he suspected the tunnel was the work of Tijuana's Arellano-Felix drug smuggling syndicate or another well-known drug cartel. He said tougher enforcement aboveground had forced smugglers to dig below.

The tunnel's discovery prompted the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego to open a criminal investigation, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The tunnel exited into a large, two-story white cinderblock warehouse in an industrial San Diego neighborhood near the border.

A green sign over the door said V&F Distributors LLC. County records listed the building's owner as Helen Park of Long Beach. The phone rang unanswered Thursday at her home.

Mexican authorities found the entrance about 100 yards south of the border on Tuesday, and officers on the U.S. side found the exit Wednesday. Mexican officials allowed reporters and photographers, including an Associated Press photographer, into the tunnel late Wednesday.

"To discover these tunnels truly illustrates the dangers, the risks of the security and safety concerns of the American public and that is a concern to the Federal partners here," Unzueta said.

The tunnel was about five feet wide and high enough for an adult to stand inside, had a cement floor, and lights mounted on one of the hard soil walls. It was equipped with a pulley system on the Mexican side.

Four tunnels have been discovered this month in the Tijuana-San Diego area, including more primitive tunnel that was also found Wednesday when a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle struck a sinkhole.


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