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Tunnel heading for U.S. discovered in Mexico

Eight men believed to be digging the shaft are arrested in Mexicali.

September 03, 2008|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Mexican authorities have arrested eight men after discovering a sophisticated tunnel, believed to be designed to ferry drugs, that nearly reached into U.S. territory.

Baja California state preventive police said Tuesday that they were acting on a tip when they raided a Mexicali home Monday afternoon and found some of the suspects hard at work in the passage, which was longer than a football field.

The tunnel's destination appeared to be a residential neighborhood across the border in Calexico. The tunnel appeared to be well financed and expertly constructed.

It had a rail-and-cart system, ventilation, lighting and an electric lift to transport items up and down the shaft, authorities said.

"What they had constructed was very sophisticated," said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose agents inspected the tunnel.

Numerous drug tunnels have been discovered over the years in the Mexicali-Calexico area, where some cross-border neighborhoods lie only a stone's throw from one another.

The tunnel discovered Monday started in a neatly kept fenced home near downtown Mexicali. The suspects apparently were caught off guard and were arrested in their shorts, work boots and dirt-stained shirts.

Mexican authorities said they didn't know who was behind the tunnel. Such passages, which can cost more than $1 million, usually are financed by drug smuggling operations.

The suspects told authorities that a man would visit the house monthly to pay the work crew, but that he hid his identity with a ski mask, said Agustin Perez Aguilar, the spokesman for Baja California's secretary of public security.

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