Posted by Phoenix Methamphetamine Attorney Nick Alcock:
For more than six months, agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration have been closely monitoring an industrial area on the outskirts of San Luis, a border town in the southwestern corner of Arizona near Yuma. The agents suspected it was being used to stash drugs smuggled across the border from Mexico. Then they discovered one of the buildings they were watching contained a major drug tunnel that stretched 240 yards, the length of two football fields, to an ice plant on the Mexican side of the border. DEA says it was engineered with 4-by-6 beams, plywood walls, ceilings and floors, and a lighting and ventilation system. This fully operational tunnel was used to smuggle methamphetamine and possibly other drugs ans is estimated to have cost $1.5 million, taking over a year to build.
Federal law-enforcement officials say the tunnel shows how drug-smuggling organizations continue to rely on underground passageways to evade increased security at ports of entry and in the desert. Most of the recent cross-border tunnels in Arizona have been found in the Nogales area and are crudely dug. The tunnel discovered was more than 4 feet wide and traveled more than 55 feet below the ground. Drug tunnels are expensive and time-consuming to build. They force smugglers to use a fixed location to smuggle drugs into the U.S. rather than drive them concealed in vehicle compartments through ports of entry or carry them in backpacks through the desert. The tunnel discovered near Yuma is also unusual because most drug tunnels in Arizona have been built in the Tucson and Douglas areas.
In June, President Barack Obama signed a bill aimed at combating a rise in the number of drug-smuggling tunnels under the U.S.-Mexican border. The law makes it a crime to conspire to build tunnels, supplementing a law that punishes those who construct them. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison. As U.S. authorities heighten enforcement on land, tunnels have become an increasingly common way to smuggle enormous loads of heroin, marijuana and other drugs into the country.
The latest Arizona tunnel was discovered after state police pulled over a man who had 39 pounds of methamphetamine in his vehicle and mentioned the strip mall. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the first sophisticated smuggling tunnel was found in Douglas, Arizona more than 20 years ago. Many tunnels have included lighting, ventilation and beam-supported walls and ceilings. In the past seven years, 119 tunnels have been discovered on the southern U.S. border. Only one tunnel has been found on the U.S./Canada border.
Three suspects have been detained in the U.S. in connection with the tunnel.
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