Feds Seize Longest Tunnel on California-Mexico Border
Assistant U. S. Attorney Timothy Salel (619) 546-8055
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – April 20, 2016
SAN DIEGO – Federal officials have seized what is believed to be the longest cross-border tunnel ever discovered along the California-Mexico border, with an estimated length of more than eight football fields, plus officials confiscated more than a ton of cocaine, making it the single-largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a Southern California tunnel.
The tunnel is estimated to be more than 800 yards in length, and probably longer due to its zig-zagging route. It stretches from a house in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico to an outdoor fenced-in commercial lot in an Otay Mesa industrial park, about 500 yards north of the international border. The tunnel exit on the U.S. side is a three-foot-diameter hole that at one point was covered by a jumbo-sized industrial dumpster.
It is equipped with rail and ventilation systems, lights and a sophisticated large elevator leading from the tunnel into a closet inside the Tijuana residence. It is one of the narrowest tunnels found to date, with a diameter of just three feet for most of the length of the passageway.
Six people were arrested in San Diego Friday and charged by federal complaint with various drug trafficking and tunnel-related charges, including conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and conspiracy to use a border tunnel.
The defendants include Martiniano Garcia-Sedano, Cruz Armando Parra Corrales, Alejandro Bravo, Juan Carlos Chavez Fabian, Alejandro Gomez-Baez and Osmel Martinez. They were arraigned in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major and remain in custody pending detention hearings.
On April 12, agents saw a white commercial truck deliver an industrial dumpster to a lot in Otay Mesa on Marconi Drive and Enrico Fermi Drive. The agents saw the truck back up and, with direction from some of the defendants, drop the dumpster over a specific area that was later discovered to have a hole descending 10 feet into the ground and connecting to an underground tunnel leading to the U.S. Mexico border. Agents noticed the dumpster appeared to be filled with wood scraps.
The next day, agents saw two people cover the dumpster with a tarp. Ten minutes later, a forklift removed stacks of wooden pallets away from the front of the dumpster. Agents watched as defendant Cruz Armando Parra Corrales got down on the ground in a push-up position with his face close to the bottom of the dumpster, in an area where the dumpster connects to the truck, apparently communicating with someone who was inside the dumpster or inside a tunnel below the dumpster.
Soon after that, the truck loaded up the dumpster and transported it to another parking lot on Imperial Avenue near 30th Street, where it was unloaded. Another large box truck was backed up next to the dumpster with its cargo door open. Agents conducting surveillance watched as the defendants placed a tarp between the dumpster and box truck, and then moved back and forth between them. A couple of hours later, the box truck was driven out of the parking lot.
San Diego County sheriff’s deputies stopped the box truck and found 2,242 pounds of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of marijuana.
Federal agents obtained warrants to search the lots and found the tunnel exit. Inside the tunnel they found 68 bales of marijuana weighing 1,638 pounds. The exit was found at the exact location where agents had previously observed Garcia unload the dumpster from the roll off truck, with the assistance of Parra and Bravo. Agents also found an additional 1,430 pounds of marijuana in the dumpster.
In total, authorities seized 2,242 pounds of cocaine and more than 14,000 pounds of marijuana.
“On the surface, few would ever suspect that traffickers were moving multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana worth tens of millions of dollars in such an unassuming way, through this rabbit hole in the ground, in full view of the world around it,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “However, we can thank the hyper-vigilant agents who work this area for seeing what many of us would have missed. They don't judge a book by its cover. Whether a grandiose super tunnel or a humble rabbit hole, they home in and are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to secure our border.”
“Homeland Security Investigations and our law enforcement partners collaborated and utilized every resource to take down another cross-border tunnel that posed a threat to national security,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Diego. “HSI is committed to combatting increasingly dangerous trans-border smuggling activities and preventing those responsible from using this technique as a profitable investment.”
“This case is a strong reminder of the vulnerabilities that exist along the Southwest border,” said Hunter Davis, Director of Air Operations for Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, “Drug trafficking organizations continue to jeopardize our National Security in exchange for profit.”
“We know that drug trafficking organizations are using any and all means to get their contraband across the US/Mexican Border,” said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman. “Historically, seizures from drug tunnels have been marijuana and small amounts of cocaine. A 2,000 pound cocaine seizure tells DEA and our law enforcement partners that these groups are having to resort to unsophisticated tunnels to try and push through what amounts to a $22 million loss just in cocaine alone. This loss is a devastating blow even to an established drug trafficking organization.”
“Because of the collaboration of the agencies involved in this investigation, a serious blow was dealt to the criminal organization responsible for this threat,” said Chief Patrol Agent Richard A. Barlow, U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego Sector. “I applaud the men and women who worked tirelessly to stop the flow of dangerous narcotics through this tunnel and thank them for their continued efforts to protect the citizens we serve.”
The tunnel dismantled in Otay Mesa is the 13th large-scale operational drug smuggling tunnel discovered along the California border since 2006. In the last five years, federal authorities have detected more than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 16MJ1118
Cruz Armando Parra Corrales
Conspiracy to Import Cocaine and Marijuana, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 952, 960 and 963
Penalties: Ten year mandatory minimum, up to life in Prison, $10 Million fine
Conspiracy to Use a Border Tunnel, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 555(d)
Maximum Penalty 20 years in prison, $250,000 fine.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 16MJ1119
Juan Carlos Chavez Fabian
Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine and Marijuana, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a) and 846
Penalties: Ten year mandatory minimum, up to life in Prison, $10 million fine
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations
U.S. Border Patrol
Drug Enforcement Administration
Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine
Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations
Internal Revenue Service
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
San Diego Police Department
California Highway Patrol
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
**This case stems from an ongoing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) joint investigation conducted by the agencies noted above. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
For visuals, please refer to link below