San Diego

Longest Cross-Border Drug Tunnel Discovered Had Elevator, Ventilation and Lighting, U.S. Atty. Says

Authorities on Wednesday revealed the details of the longest cross-border drug smuggling tunnel ever discovered in California. 

The elaborate tunnel, found near the Otay Mesa Border Crossing, is one of the narrowest ever discovered and includes lighting, ventilation and an elevator that fits eight to 10 people, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said at a news conference. 

It is the 13th operational large scale border tunnel found along the state's border since 2006 and the second tunnel discovered in the Otay Mesa area in the past month. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees swarmed a facility on Marconi Drive Tuesday starting at 2:15 p.m. The building is about 1,000 feet from the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The tunnel zig zags the length of eight football fields from Mexico to the U.S., Duffy said. 

Duffy says people digging cross border tunnels typically try to make more of an effort to conceal them.

"This one as you can see it's literally a rabbit hole in the ground," Duffy said. "They had a plate over that they covered with gravel like this. So I think few, except the agents who work this area who are very attune to this area and what's going on, would even suspect this kind of business is taking place out in the open."

Agents discovered the tunnel when they noticed a dumpster being strategically placed in a pallet yard.  A sign on the fence outside the business reads: "Otay Pallets - We buy pallets." 

Officials say pallets were placed around it, and on top of drugs found inside it.

Duffy said the agency is fairly confident this was the first drug smuggling attempt at the tunnel location.

An estimated $1.2 million worth of marijuana and about $22 million worth of cocaine was seized Friday.

Six people were arrested and charged as a result of the discovery. 

Martiniano Garcia-Sedano, Cruz Armando Parra Corrales and Alejandro Bravo were charged with conspiring to import cocaine and marijuana and conspiring to use a border tunnel, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's office. 

The men imported 2,242 pounds of a mixture and substance with detectable amounts of cocaine, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleged the men imported 14,098.96 pounds of a mixture with a detectable amount of marijuana. The complaint alleged the men used the border tunnel to transport those drugs. 

Juan Carlos Chavez Fabian, Alejandro Gomez-Baez and Osmel Martinez were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, according to a separate complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's office. 

According to the complaint, the men to distribute 2,242 pounds of a substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of a substance containing marijuana. 

A nearby business owner told NBC 7 San Diego she didn't see anything odd or suspicious going on in the area.

"We just mind our own business because I don't care what others do,” said Lupita Flores. “I don't even knew what they were doing over there. I just saw the pallets but that was it. We never saw what they were doing. So I have no idea." 

The tunnel marks the third similar discovery in recent weeks around Southern California. 

Officials found a 142-foot cross-border tunnel east of Calexico during a routine patrol of the border Friday. Depression in the soil exposed an 18-inch hole, where the agent found lumber and electrical wiring that indicated it was an operational tunnel.

A month ago, authorities found a secret, cross-border tunnel hidden in a home built specifically for the purpose of concealing the tunnel's entrance, officials said. It's believed to be the first instance in California where smugglers built a home for the sole purpose of transporting drugs. 

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