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Cross-border tunnel found in Otay Mesa; six people charged

The interior of an underground tunnel
The interior of a cross-border tunnel found at an Otay Mesa warehouse.
(Homeland Security Investigations)

U.S. authorities discovered a “sophisticated” cross-border tunnel stretching from a Tijuana house to an Otay Mesa warehouse near the port of entry.

As a result of the investigation, six people were charged for conspiring to distribute more than 1,750 pounds of cocaine, U.S. federal prosecutors said Monday.

The tunnel was estimated to be about 1,744 feet long, 61 feet deep and 4 feet in diameter with reinforced walls, a rail system, electricity and ventilation system, authorities said. It’s the first tunnel found in the region since March 2020.

The tunnel was discovered Friday “because of good old-fashioned police work,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said Monday at a news conference in Otay Mesa.

Federal agents were conducting surveillance on a National City residence that had been previously used as a stash house for cocaine smuggling in March, he said.

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A square in a concrete floor with a ladder poking out
Opening of the cross-border tunnel at the Otay Mesa warehouse.
(Alexandra Mendoza / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In a span of hours, agents noticed five vehicles “come and go from the stash house and this warehouse,” Grossman said. “We allege that our defendants were driving into the garage and loading or dropping off cardboard boxes full of drugs to further the movement and distribution of drugs throughout the U.S.

“But federal agents were watching the whole time.”

Law enforcement officers stopped the vehicles and seized drugs from the vehicles and the residence. Six people, ages 31 to 55, were arrested and later charged, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Authorities seized 164 pounds of methamphetamine and 3.5 pounds of heroin, along with the 1,762 pounds of cocaine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. In total the estimated value of the drugs seized is approximately $25 million, said Juan Muñoz, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego.

After searching the warehouse at Via de la Amistad — about 300 feet north of the border — agents found the tunnel’s exit carved out of the cement floor.

“There is no light at the end of this narco-tunnel,” Grossman said. “We and our agency partners will continue to work zealously to take down every subterranean smuggling route and other means that drug traffickers use to bring illicit drugs into our community.”

Authorities declined to comment on how long they believe the tunnel was in operation, or which cartel is believed to be linked to it, since the investigation is still ongoing.

Two guards stand outside a fence
Armed guards on Monday outside the Tijuana house where a border tunnel was found over the weekend.
(Alexandra Mendoza / The San Diego Union-Tribune )

The discovery was made following an investigation by members of the San Diego Costa Pacifico Money Laundering Task Force, which includes Homeland Security Investigations, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In Tijuana, authorities found the tunnel on Saturday night in a house on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Street, east of the border crossing. On Monday morning, the home was under guard by the Mexican army and the Tijuana police.

Some neighbors said they were surprised because they had not noticed any suspicious activity around the house.

However, one neighbor said he did not find it odd to hear about the discovery of a new tunnel around the area, since it has happened before.

From 1993 to date, U.S. authorities have discovered 90 passages in the Southern District of California. Of those, 27 were considered sophisticated.


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