Cross-border smuggling tunnel discovered in Otay Mesa; $29.6 million in drugs seized

Nearly $30 million worth of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and fentanyl was seized after a smuggling tunnel that runs from Tijuana to Otay Mesa in San Diego was found, federal officials said


Nearly $30 million worth of drugs was seized after a cross-border tunnel that runs from Tijuana to Otay Mesa was found last month, federal officials said Tuesday.

The 2,000-foot-long tunnel was discovered March 19 by law enforcement officers, with Mexican officers locating the entrance in Tijuana.

Agents searched the Otay Mesa warehouse where the tunnel ends after obtaining a federal warrant and seized about 1,300 pounds of cocaine, 86 pounds of methamphetamine, 17 pounds of heroin, 3,000 pounds of marijuana and more than 2 pounds of fentanyl inside the tunnel, officials said.

Officials said this was the first time five different drugs were found inside a smuggling tunnel. The street value of the drugs is estimated at $29.6 million.

The tunnel, which extends for more than 2,000 feet underground, has an average depth of 31 feet and is mostly 3 feet wide.

Agents believe the tunnel has existed for several months. It had reinforced walls in certain sections as well as ventilation, lighting and an underground rail system.

“I’m proud of the excellent work performed by Homeland Security Investigations agents, as well as U.S. Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Administration agents as integrated partners of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force. Their tenacity made the difference in shutting down this tunnel,” Cardell T. Morant, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Diego, said in a statement.

“I hope this sends a clear message that despite the ongoing public health crisis, HSI and our law enforcement partners will remain resilient and continue to pursue criminal organizations responsible for the cross-border smuggling of narcotics into the United States.”


U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said the seizure was the most valuable single-day tunnel seizure in recent memory.

“If cartels keep spending millions of dollars building tunnels, we will keep finding and filling them,” Brewer said in a statement. “This time, we seized a jaw-dropping $30 million worth of dangerous drugs that aren’t going to reach the streets.

“This takedown is even more significant in the face of a global pandemic, where stopping the movement of unauthorized people and packages across international borders is of utmost importance,” Brewer said.

The discovery of the tunnel was the result of an ongoing investigation by members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which includes Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Agents also worked in cooperation with Mexico’s Fiscalia General de la Republica and Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional , officials said.

Kucher writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.