Defendant Admits Smuggling Cocaine through an Underwater Narcotics Tunnel in Wetsuit and Scuba Gear
For Further Information, Contact: Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Hobson (619) 546-6986
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 19, 2015
SAN DIEGO – Evelio Padilla-Zepeda, a Honduran national, pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he donned a wetsuit and scuba gear and smuggled 55 pounds of cocaine through an underwater drug tunnel that exited into the All-American Canal just north of the international border.
Padilla-Zepeda entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 7, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez.
On April 25, 2015, Border Patrol Agents were patrolling about seven miles east of the Calexico West Port of Entry at 10:25 p.m. when they were informed by a remote video surveillance operator that there was an individual along the All-American Canal.
According to court records, agents searched the southern embankment and encountered the defendant, who was soaking wet and dressed in a wetsuit. Agents apprehended the defendant and continued to search the immediate area and found 25 one-pound vacuum-sealed weighted and gift-wrapped packages of cocaine plus scuba tanks and diving gear, including two rebreather tanks which recirculate a diver’s exhaled breath and prevent tell-tale bubbles – a giveaway that a diver is in the water.
Subsequently, Border Patrol Agents found an underground tunnel from Mexicali, Mexico, continuing under the border and ending at the south bank of the canal. The exit point of the tunnel is in the embankment of the canal, partially submerged by the canal’s water and covered with rocks which have to be moved to access the exit. The tunnel was approximately 45 to 50 yards long.
In court, Padilla-Zepeda admitted that he entered the south canal bank of the All-American Canal in Calexico through an underground tunnel from Mexico into the United States, wearing scuba gear and carrying 25 packages of cocaine. The defendant also admitted that he intended to use his scuba gear to transport the cocaine in the canal and underwater to another location in the All-American Canal.
“Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product – even scuba diving in an underwater tunnel,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it, as we have done in this case.”
“This investigation demonstrates the incredible lengths that these drug trafficking organizations will go to ensure that their product makes it to the streets,” said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman. “With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, a cross-border drug tunnel was shut down, keeping our communities safe.”
“We are pleased with the conclusion of this serious matter resulting from the arrest of this man and dangerous drugs seized by El Centro Sector Border Patrol agents,” said Chief Patrol Agent Carla Provost.
DEFENDANT Criminal Case No. 15CR1375-BEN
Evelio Padilla-Zepeda Age: 28 Hometown: Mexicali, Mexico; Citizen of Honduras
SUMMARY OF CHARGE
Possession of Cocaine With Intent To Distribute -- Title 21, U.S.C., Section 841(a)(1)
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
United States Border Patrol, Calexico Station
Homeland Security Investigation
Drug Enforcement Administration