The news from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came as the agency announced that three suspects are facing possible federal charges following the alleged seizure of more than eight tons of marijuana and several hundred pounds of cocaine linked to the elaborate cross-border tunnel that was shut down Wednesday night during an operation by federal and local law enforcement agencies.
"The newly completed tunnel, connecting a warehouse in Tijuana, Mex., with a building in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial park, stretches the length of nearly six football fields. The passageway -- equipped with lighting, ventilation and an electric rail system -- is the largest, most sophisticated tunnel uncovered along the southern border in two years," a news release from ICE reported.
Collectively, the alleged 17,292 pounds of marijuana and 325 pounds of cocaine seized as part of the ongoing tunnel probe have an estimated street value of nearly $12 million, ICE reported.
“The cartels have spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying in vain to create an underworld of secret passageways to move huge quantities of drugs at will,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “We have a message for the builders, financiers and operators of these sophisticated tunnels: if you continue to go underground, you will find your world collapsing around you.”
Wednesday night’s arrests and seizures are the latest development in an ongoing probe by multiple federal agencies, including ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Additional support for the investigation was provided by the San Diego and Chula Vista Police Departments, along with the California National Guard Joint Task Force Domestic Support-Counterdrug.
"The initial enforcement action leading up to the shuttering of the tunnel occurred mid-day Saturday when a box truck that had been under surveillance by investigators was pulled over by the Chula Vista police for traffic violations," the ICE news release continued. "Police officers subsequently discovered approximately three tons of marijuana concealed inside.
"Following that initial seizure, investigators continued to monitor activity at the Otay Mesa building thought to house the tunnel’s U.S. entrance, and at a second warehouse in Chula Vista also allegedly being used by the criminal organization to stockpile marijuana.
"Late Wednesday, investigators executed search warrants at both locations. Inside the Otay Mesa facility they recovered more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana. At the Chula Vista warehouse on Brandywine Ave. investigators seized another 8,900 pounds of marijuana, much of it loaded in a box truck that was attempting to depart the property.
"The cocaine was recovered earlier Wednesday after the San Diego Police Department conducted a traffic stop on a van investigators had previously observed leaving the Otay Mesa facility," the news release read.
The tunnel dismantled Wednesday is the eighth large-scale drug smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006, ICE reported. In the last five years, federal authorities have detected more than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona.