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New home and restaurant concealed drug tunnel at U.S.-Mexico border, officials say

New home and restaurant concealed drug tunnel at U.S.-Mexico border, officials say
An investigator photographs the terminus of a tunnel at a newly built home in Calexico, Calif., that runs the length of four football fields to a restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico. (AP)

A cross-border drug tunnel connecting a Mexican restaurant in Mexicali to a house in Calexico was seized Wednesday morning, federal officials said.

The investigation led to the confiscation of more than a ton of marijuana and the arrests of four people in Calexico and Arizona.

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The 415-yard tunnel begins at El Sarape Restaurant in Mexicali and ends at a new home on Third Street in Calexico, about 300 yards from the border. Agents found the tunnel exit at the house covered with tile.

It is the first time drug traffickers are known to have scouted and purchased a piece of land to construct a house on for the sole purpose of concealing a drug tunnel, the U.S. attorney's office said.

U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents tracked the construction of the house via wiretaps in October and November. The contractor was told to leave a space for a floor safe when pouring the foundation, according to court records, and investigators believe that space was used as the tunnel's exit.

The home was completed in December at a cost of $86,000, and agents believe the first drugs were smuggled through after Feb. 28.

On March 7, law enforcement officials seized more than 1,350 pounds of marijuana that had been smuggled through the tunnel and left at stash locations, authorities said.

Two women were arrested in Arizona on Tuesday, one on suspicion of buying the tunnel house. The other is charged in federal court in San Diego on accusations of helping to move drugs between the tunnel house and stash house.

Two men were arrested in Calexico on Wednesday. Authorities also seized about 1,500 pounds of marijuana inside the stash house.

The tunnel is the first operational one to be found in Calexico in a decade. Soil composition in the area makes it difficult to penetrate, making traffickers prefer the Otay Mesa warehouse district, which is also busier and therefore an easier place to hide smuggling activity, authorities said.

Davis writes for the San Diego Union Tribune.

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