Just as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in San Diego shut the door on their latest drug-smuggling tunnel case, another one opened up.
On Wednesday, ICE officials arrested a 73-year-old Chula Vista woman on suspicion of overseeing the operation of an underground tunnel leading under the border to an Otay Mesa industrial park in San Diego.
On Thursday, they found a second tunnel, which is one longer and more sophisticated than the first.
The busts “eliminated a multi-million dollar drug smuggling venture and have reduced it to nothing more than a colossal waste of money on the part of the drug cartels," said William Sherman, the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego special agent in charge, in a statement.
"Our goal is to not only shut these tunnels down before they become operational, but to ensure that the cartels backing these elaborate smuggling operations are investigated and prosecuted."
The two tunnel discovered this week mark the sixth and seven cross-border passages that authorities have located in the last four years. Officials have found more than 80 tunnels from California to Arizona since 2006.
But the quantity of drugs – if any – that were successfully channeled through the tunnels found this week is unknown, authorities said. According to the federal complaint against Glennys Rodriguez of Chula Vista – who is accused of supervising the pathways - the warehouse where the first tunnel was found was purchased last May.
In their announcement, authorities described the elaborate passage smugglers had carved under the border:
The first tunnel was approximately 600 yards long, secured with wooden trusses and equipped with lighting and a crude rail system. Its exit on the U.S. side was 70-feet below ground and had a pulley system for hoisting packages to the surface.
Children’s toys were found strewn in the warehouse where the tunnel lead, officials said.
Agents have found similar settings outside other tunnels they’ve uncovered. They say operators hire people to occasionally drop by the property to make it appear to be a normal business to neighbors, according to court documents.
The second tunnel was discovered by Mexican authorities on Thursday. Authorities found that the second tunnel exited just around the corner from the first and was noticeably more advanced.
The second tunnel was about 700 yards long, had ventilation and a multi-tiered electrical rail system.
So far, Rodriguez is the only person facing charges, but her criminal complaint names several other people who authorities believe are related to the tunnels, including a man who authorities said has been caught constructing cross-border tunnels before.