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Man pleads guilty to underwater drug-smuggling attempt while wearing scuba gear

A 28-year-old Honduran national pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempting to smuggle drugs into the U.S. through the All-American Canal while wearing a wetsuit and scuba gear.

Evelio Padilla-Zepeda admitted that he entered the U.S. via a tunnel from Mexico to a spot on the south bank of the All-American Canal east of Calexico in Imperial County.

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The tunnel was 40- to 50-yards long, with a rail system, and was partially submerged at the bank of the canal where it is parallel to the border, prosecutors said. The canal brings water from the Colorado River to  farmers.

Padilla-Zepeda was wearing a wetsuit and had scuba tanks when he was arrested. He had 25 airtight packages containing 55 pounds of cocaine. He had hoped to float down the canal for more than a mile and avoid detection by Border Patrol agents, prosecutors said.

Instead, he was spotted by agents using remote video surveillance equipment on the night of April 25.

The smuggler's gear included two "rebreather tanks" that recirculate an underwater diver's exhaled breath to prevent tell-tale bubbles from surfacing, prosecutors said.

"Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product," said U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy. "The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it."

Padilla-Zepeda, who lives in Mexicali, could face a maximum 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in San Diego federal court on Dec. 7. The cocaine had a value of $1,774,400, prosecutors said.

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