Authorities seized more than 20 tons of marijuana in connection with a cross-border tunnel equipped with a rail car, fluorescent lighting and a ventilation system — the second discovery of a major underground drug passage in San Diego this month.
The tunnel found Thursday is 2,200 feet long — more than seven football fields — and runs from the kitchen of a home in Tijuana, Mexico, to two warehouses in San Diego's Otay Mesa industrial district, said Mike Unzueta, head of investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Diego, reported NPR.
The tunnel's cinderblock-lined entry began in Mexico. It dropped 80 to 90 feet to a wood-lined floor, Unzueta said. From the U.S. side, there was a stairway leading to a room about 50 feet underground that was full of marijuana.
"It's a lot like how the ancient Egyptians buried the kings and queens," Unzueta said
The tunnel and another found in early November are believed to be the work of the Sinaloa cartel, headed by Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
"I can promise you there are some very unhappy people in the cartel," said John Morton, director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which leads the multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force, on the discovery of this month's first tunnel, reported the Christian Science Monitor. Even though some 75 tunnels along the US-Mexico border have been found in the past few years, few have been fully operational as this one was.
The passage found Thursday is one of the most advanced to date, with a rail system for drugs to be carried on a small cart, Unzueta said.
U.S. authorities do not know how long the latest tunnel was operating. Unzueta said investigators began to look into several warehouses in June on a tip that emerged from a large bust of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
U.S. authorities followed a trailer from one of the warehouses to a Border Patrol checkpoint in Temecula, where they seized 27,600 pounds of marijuana, reported the El Paso Times.
"That (trailer) was literally filled top to bottom, front to back," Unzueta said. "There wasn't any room for anything else in that tractor-trailer but air."
Three tons of marijuana were found in a "subterranean room" and elsewhere in the tunnel on the U.S. side, authorities said. Mexican officials seized four tons of pot at a ranch in northern Mexico, bringing the total haul to more than 20 tons, said SignonSanDiego.
ICE began meeting with landowners last month to warn them about leasing space to tunnel builders, after finding several sophisticated tunnels that have ended inside warehouses in San Diego.
"These owners of warehouses, they need to know their customers, they need to know who's in there leasing these things," Unzueta said.