BUILDERS OF DRUG TUNNEL BETWEEN CANADA AND US SENTENCED TO NINE YEARS IN PRISON
Judge Sends Message to Drug Traffickers: Marijuana Smuggling Serious Crime
Three Canadians were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle today to nine years in prison for their roles in the construction of the first ever tunnel on the northern border. FRANCIS DEVANDRA RAJ, 31, of Surrey, BC, TIMOTHY WOO, 35, of Surrey, BC and JONATHAN VALENZUELA, 28, of Surrey, BC were each sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of supervised release. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour remarked on the seriousness of the BC Bud smuggling problem saying, “the proceeds of this drug trade are used to fund other criminal trade, including drugs going north into Canada.”
The tunnel, located just east of the Lynden/Aldergrove border crossing was under construction for more than a year. The tunnel was approximately 360 feet long and ran at a depth of between three and ten feet. It was reinforced with iron rebar and 2x6 wood supports. Both Canadian and American law enforcement monitored the construction of the tunnel and on July 20, 2005 shut down the tunnel and arrested RAJ, WOO and VALENZUELA for illegal drug trafficking.
According to records filed in the case, construction of the tunnel – including the purchase of property on both sides of the border – cost more than $400,000. The government argued for a lengthy sentence noting that the men who dug the tunnel planned to ferry more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana through the tunnel in order to recoup their investment. Telephone calls recorded in connection with the investigation reveal the men planned to make as much as $550 per pound on marijuana transported through the tunnel. Other calls indicate they planned to smuggle 300 pounds of marijuana a day generating some $165,000 per day to the conspiracy.
In asking for a lengthy sentence prosecutors noted the tunnel created hazards for those traveling in cars and school buses on the road above. The tunnel was used to move cocaine and ecstasy and could have been a risk to national security. “The tunnel would have posed even more serious risks if it went undetected. Just as cars and planes have become vehicles for the transportation of a wide variety of contraband and people, the tunnel could easily have served other nefarious purposes had it not been closed so quickly,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum.
Judge Coughenour agreed that the tunnel was designed to move thousands of pounds of drugs noting the extensive preparation and expense of the tunnel. Judge Coughenour said he sees too many young people from Canada caught up in the drug trade who don’t realize that smuggling drugs across the border is a serious crime in the United States.
Rodney Benson, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration stated, "this criminal organization posed a serious threat to the United States, not only in terms of drug trafficking, but to the national security of our nation. The sentencing of these three individuals today sends a clear message to drug traffickers and others that their actions have consequences. The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to work with our counterparts nationally and internationally to target and dismantle drug trafficking organizations as well as to block their smuggling routes into this country."
All three men pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Import Marijuana. VALENZUELA pleaded guilty on February 16, 2006. RAJ pleaded guilty on March 1, 2006, and WOO pleaded guilty on March 3, 2006.
Canada’s Border Services Agency became aware of the tunnel construction in February 2005 and alerted the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC). That unit of the RCMP was launched in April 2004 to fight organized crime in British Columbia. Canadian and American law enforcement organizations coordinated their efforts to make sure all activity in the tunnel was monitored and that prosecutions could proceed on both sides of the border. The tunnel was filled in so it cannot be used for any smuggling or other illegal activities.
The case against RAJ, WOO and VALENZUELA was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jill Otake, Annette Hayes and Doug Whalley.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206)553-4110.