A soldier opens the access to a tunnel during a presentation to the media… (Jorge Duenes / Reuters )
Reporting from San Diego — The discovery of a major drug tunnel linking San Diego and Tijuana warehouses led to the seizure of about 17 tons of marijuana as well as a large pot-growing operation east of San Diego, U.S. and Mexican authorities announced Wednesday.
The tunnel, uncovered Tuesday night, ran the length of four football fields and was equipped with lights and a ventilation system. It was in the light-industrial area of Otay Mesa where several other large tunnels have been found in recent years, and demonstrates the continuing efforts of Mexican organized crime groups to circumvent border defenses with underground passageways capable of handling enormous drug shipments.
The opening in Tijuana was found in an unfinished industrial building near the airport, where Mexican soldiers on Wednesday morning stood guard in front of some eight tons of neatly stacked marijuana bundles. Many were labeled with pictures of Captain America, the symbol used by a major operator of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Tijuana, Mexican General Gilberto Landeros Briseno said in an interview with the Mexican media.
The Sinaloa drug cartel is Mexico's most powerful organized crime group and has a long history of constructing drug tunnels in San Diego. Anti-drug agents in the U.S. didn't provide details on the source of the drugs but said the investigation is ongoing and involves coordination with the Mexican military.
"The drug cartels mistakenly believe they can elude detection by taking their contraband underground, but again and again, we've been able to find these tunnels and shut them down," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which heads the San Diego-based, multiagency tunnel task force.
Task force agents, who were keeping the warehouse in San Diego under surveillance, watched an unmarked white truck leave the building Tuesday evening and notified a CHP officer, who pulled the vehicle over on a nearby highway.
A search of the truck yielded three tons of marijuana, and agents later obtained a search warrant for the warehouse, where they found another six tons near the two-by-three-foot opening in the concrete floor.
Agents, in a related search, raided a building in Lakeside, where they found 204 marijuana plants. Two people at the building were arrested, as well as the driver and a passenger in the truck stopped by the CHP officer.
There were no arrests in the warehouse on Kerns Street, and agents said they are investigating whether the tenants or owners of the building were involved in the drug tunnel operation.
Last year, two large tunnels were discovered in the same neighborhood, resulting in the seizure of more than 45 tons of marijuana. The tunnel-smuggling activity in the bustling area prompted an outreach effort by agents who have gone door to door asking business owners and truckers to report suspicious activity.