Federal officials in California are examining a 400-yard, cross-border drug tunnel. They captured 1,500 pounds of marijuana and made six arrests this week after law enforcement monitored the construction of a house that drug traffickers had built simply to conceal the tunnel opening.
“This house and tunnel were constructed under the watchful eye of law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement Wednesday. “For the builders, the financiers and the operators of these passageways, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We will seize your drugs and your tunnel before you even have a chance to use it.”
According to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement release, the tunnel uncovered in Calexico, California is the first California-Mexico border tunnel discovered since 2006 and the circumstances represent the first time drug traffickers are known to have purchased a parcel of land and had home constructed on top of it “sole purpose” of hiding the tunnel exit.
The drug traffickers allegedly purchased a parcel of land in a residential section of Calexico for $240,000 last April. The house was built by December for approximately $86,000. According to law enforcement, the agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) used court-approved wire tapes to monitor the construction project in October and November.
“According to the case affidavit, the property owners told the construction contractor to leave a space for a floor safe when pouring a cement foundation for the house. Investigators believe the owners intended to use the hole in the foundation as the tunnel’s exit point. In late December 2015, coconspirators rented a “walk behind saw and concrete blade” from a local business in El Centro, presumably to create the tunnel exit,” ICE said in its release.
Law enforcement seized the tunnel Wednesday. Two defendants arrested in connection with the case — a daughter-mother pair — Marcia Manuela Duarte-Medina and Eva Duarte De Medina, were arrested in Nogales, Arizona on Tuesday. Another two defendants were arrested in Calexico on Wednesday, Joel Duarte Medina and Manuel Gallegos Jimenez. Two more defendants were arrested in Mexico by Mexican authorities on Wednesday.
“Today’s enforcement actions are the culmination of months of tireless investigative work by HSI and its enforcement partners, showing yet again our collective resolve to use all of the resources at our disposal to combat this increasingly dangerous form of cross-border smuggling,” Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego, said in a statement Wednesday. “I’d emphasize that our investigation in this case is still very much ongoing, but preliminarily we believe the shuttering of this latest smuggling tunnel has dealt a serious blow to yet another narcotics trafficking organization that was determined to succeed at all costs.”