Mexican Trucker Gets 16 Years for Drug Tunnels

Daniel Navarro oversaw the transport of 50 tons of marijuana through two tunnels

By R. Stickney
|  Monday, Nov 28, 2011  |  Updated 2:41 PM PDT
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The half-mile passage ran from a residence in Tijuana to a warehouse in San Diego's Otay Mesa area.

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A Mexican trucker has been sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for his role in two major drug tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Daniel Navarro apologized to his family at his sentencing Monday. A federal judge in San Diego said the defendant was "right in the middle" of a scheme that involved gigantic amounts of drugs.

Prosecutors wanted a much stiffer punishment -- 30 years in prison. They said the 45-year-old was a key player in tunnels that linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana. The two tunnels were lit, ventilated and equipped with rail cars.

Navarro's attorney said the government overstated his involvement and asked for 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Navarro oversaw the transport of 50 tons of marijuana through two sophisticated cross-border underground tunnels into California.

The tunnels and drug loads were discovered Nov. 2 and Nov. 25.

One tunnel spanned nearly seven football fields connecting an Otay Mesa office complex and warehouse to another warehouse in Tijuana. It had lighting, ventilation and a rail system for sending carts of drugs into the United States.

Federal agents found it after getting a tip that there was one somewhere on Via De La Amistad.

Once they spotted a suspicious looking tractor-trailer parked outside an office building, they followed the truck as it headed north on Interstate 15. 

When it reached the U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint near Temecula, agents searched it and found 10 tons of marijuana.

When agents served a search warrant at the tunnel location, they seized about 22 tons of pot estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

The driver Carlos Cunningham, Jr., 31, of Oceanside, admitted to hauling multiple loads of marijuana from that building to other areas of California. He was sentenced in April to 21 years in prison.

Officials have found 125 tunnels since they started recording them in the early 1990s. Of those, 75 have been found in the past four years, most along the California and Arizona border with Mexico.

Copyright NBC San Diego / Associated Press

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