Advertisement

Federal agents raid cross-border drug tunnel

By VINCENT DEL GIUDICE

WASHINGTON -- Federal agents wielding jack hammers raided a high-tech multimillion-dollar drug tunnel built by smugglers across the Mexico-Arizona border to funnel cocaine into the United States, authorities said.

Lightning raids took place Thursday, with U.S. and Mexican agents assaulting the entrance to the football field-length tunnel at a luxury home in Agua Prieta, Mexico, and its exit at Douglas Building Supplies and Materials Co., in Douglas, Ariz., a block from the border.

Advertisement

A government spokesman said Friday two 'security guards' were arrested at the house by the Mexican Federal Judicial Police. 'Those were relatively low-ranking people,' the spokesman said.

There were no arrests in the raid on the American side of the border, and no cocaine was found by agents using the jack hammers to penetrate the subterranean complex, said Judy Turner of the U.S. Customs Service in Houston.

The drug tunnel, which extends 200 feet into the United States and 73 feet into Mexico, is 30 feet beneath the surface, five-feet tall and four-feet wide, officials said.

'This was engineered. It has sound architectural design,' said Thomas McDermott, agent in charge of the U.S. Customs Service in Tucson, Ariz. 'It is not like a tunnel you would see in Vietnam or North Korea or anything like that.'

Advertisement

'It's a very functional tunnel. Fortified with cement,' McDermott said. 'The ceilings, floors and walls are cement.'

A hydraulically raised 15-by-20 foot section of floor in the family room of the house led to a 500-square foot concrete block underground room. There was also a large compressor, an intricate sump pump and a trolley for carting drugs across the border.

'The tunnel itself cost in excess of $1 million,' McDermott said. 'The investments on both sides of the border probably total another couple of million.'

Investigators believe the sophisticated tunnel had been in operation for six months to a year.

In November, the customs service first received information that the tunnel was being used to funnel cocaine and other illegal drugs into the United States, officials said.

'This clearly shows the desperation of the drug cartels to get their stuff through one way or another,' U.S. Customs Commissioner Carol Hallett said. 'Where they will stop, no one really knows.'

About a week before the raids, on May 9, federal, state and local law enforcement authorities seized 2,258 pounds of cocaine in a flatbed truck Queen Creek, Ariz., near Phoenix, that had been smuggled through the tunnel, officials said.

Advertisement

Latest Headlines