4 Held After Discovery of Border Tunnel

From Associated Press

Authorities in Mexico arrested four men after the discovery of an underground tunnel that led from an auto repair shop in Mexicali, Mexico, beneath the U.S. border.

The tunnel, discovered Friday by city crews digging trenches in Calexico, was more than 4 feet high and zigzagged more 250 yards beneath the border. It was equipped with lighting and ventilation and reinforced with wood, said Ricardo Sandoval of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It is the first tunnel found in Imperial County, about 100 miles east of San Diego, and among half a dozen discovered along the California border since January 2002. Mexican police said the shop’s manager had told them that the tunnel had been used to smuggle drugs and people. U.S. authorities said, however, that it appeared the tunnel was still under construction and had never been used.

Joaquin Mandujano Lazaro, 24, and Jose Guadalupe Prado Mendoza, 55, were detained Saturday by Mexican authorities, and told police that they were guarding the tunnel. Prado was armed with a handgun, according to a statement by Baja California’s State Preventive Police.


Guillermo Gonzalez Liera, the auto repair shop’s manager, also was taken into custody. He said the tunnel had been operating for most of the year and had been used to smuggle drugs and people, according to a statement by police. Gonzalez said he had hired Mandujano and Prado to dig the tunnel, police said.

A fourth suspect, Raul Solano Zepeda, 27, was detained as he came to open the shop. He told police that he owned it.

At a news conference in Tijuana, Mexico, Aldo Espinosa, director of the State Preventive Police, said a drug-trafficking organization had been linked to the tunnel. He declined to name the organization, citing the ongoing investigation.

U.S. officials said the north end of the tunnel ended beneath a house and had not breached the surface. “To the best of our knowledge, it has never been used because we don’t see an exit,” said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Agents who entered the tunnel found six or seven buckets of dirt, “which led us to believe that it is still under construction,” Mack said.