|DEA Press Conference on drug tunnel|
Doug Coleman, special agent in charge with the Arizona Drug Enforcement Agency, talks Thursday afternoon inside a warehouse in San Luis where a drug tunnel was found leading into San Luis, Rio Colorado, Mexico.
|Drug tunnel in San Luis found|
Video courtesy of Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA)
|San Luis Drug Tunnel|
The DEA released more footage of a drug tunnel found in San Luis that they believe was active for more than 6 months.
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Three arrested in connection to fully-operational drug tunnel found in San Luis
- Click here to see more photos of this tunnel
U.S. Drug Enforcement Authorities in Arizona are calling a 240-yard drug-smuggling tunnel found stretching from an ice plant in Mexico to a building in San Luis, Ariz., the first fully-operational tunnel ever seized in Yuma County.
“It is a very complex job to construct a tunnel of this magnitude and with this sophistication, for that length,” said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of DEA for Arizona during a press conference Thursday. “The tunnel is incredibly advanced.”
Three suspects have been taken into custody so far. Coleman said they were arrested for transporting drugs that had been smuggled through the tunnel, not for taking part in its construction.
Coleman said the tunnel cost an estimated $1 to $1.5 million to build and probably took about a year to complete. He added that although there is no proof, it is a fairly safe assumption that the tunnel was paid for by the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, the predominant drug cartel operating in the area.
“Based on what we discovered, and based on our experience, the tunnel was not operational for very long - for a extremely short period of time,” he said.
Coleman would not release the names of the men who were arrested, only identifying one as a U.S. citizen and the other two as Mexican nationals. He also said he could not talk about who owned the building, citing the agency's ongoing investigation.
“This is just the begining of the investigation, we still have a long way to go,” Coleman said.
According to the DEA, 89 tunnels have been found in Arizona in the past 10 years. Coleman said it is entirely possible that there are more tunnels either operational or under construction that haven't been discovered by authorities.
“The amount of money that they poured into this one leads me to believe that somebody is willing to invest a significant sum into trying to build some better tunnels to possibly get some harder drugs through in this area,” Coleman said.
Also on Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told The Associated Press that an incomplete tunnel stretching approximately 220 yards was found in Tijuana, Mexico.
While marijuana is probably the most-smuggled drug, Coleman said agents are seeing a significant amount of drug smuggling attempts involving hard drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, being made in this part of the state.
Coleman said DEA began conducting surveillance on a one-story, nondescript building in San Luis at 508 Archibald Street about seven months ago. The agency had observed suspicious activity that indicated the site was possibly being used as a stash house.
On July 6, officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety conducted a traffic stop on a black Ford F-150 pickup truck on Highway 95 that was carrying 40 pounds of methamphetamine. Coleman said that based on the result of that stop, coupled with the DEA's active investigation, agents were able to obtain a search warrant and finally enter the building.
“This is a perfect example of the extraordinary cooperative law enforcement efforts that continue to be enjoyed with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners in Yuma County,” said Stephen S. Martin, chief patrol agent for the Yuma Sector.
Coleman said that once inside the building DEA agents found the entrance to the tunnel in a storage room, hidden beneath a 2,000 gallon water tank. There was also approximately 60 55-gallon drums filled with soil that had been excavated when the opening was made, as well as large plywood boxes believed to be used to cover the pallets of drums when they were removed from the building.
From the floor, the entrance plunged 55-feet down to the start of the passageway, which was six feet high and 48 inches wide, and extended 755 feet in length. In addition to being equipped with electricity and a ventilation system, the tunnel was reinforced with 4x6 beams every few feet, along with plywood for the walls, ceiling and floor.
“I would suspect that, based on the sophistication, and how far down it was, that they had engineers who were cooperating with them and advising them how to do it, if there weren't actually engineers on site,” Coleman said.
After discovering the tunnel, DEA contacted Mexican authorities, who located the other side of the passageway inside a downtown commercial property named Ice Land on Morelos Street.
Military and police personnel sealed the surrounding area of property on the Mexican side, while agents from the Yuma Sector Border Patrol guarded the entrance on the U.S. side.
In May 2011, Mexican police and soldiers, found an underground shaft in San Luis Río Colorado, Son., that was thought to be the beginnings of a smuggling tunnel or a storage place for drugs or guns. In February of the same year, Mexican authorities found an unfinished tunnel started at a dwelling located at Plutarco Elias Calles Avenue and 8th Street, less than 100 yards from the border line. Seven people were arrested.
In November 2008 an unfinished tunnel was discovered at 1429 San Francisco St., in San Luis, Arizona after a Border Patrol employee noticed a spurt of cement coming out of a ventilation hole while he was driving just north of the international border.
That tunnel was located within 1,000 feet of another cross-border tunnel discovered in September 2007.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert