One of the largest pot busts in US history
Thu, 01 Dec 2011 11:25a.m.
By Elliot Spagat
Tis the season for finding cross-border drug tunnels.
The latest secret passage - equipped with a hydraulic lift, electric rail cars, wooden staircase and end-to-end wood floors - was discovered this week on the US-Mexico border, highlighting an emerging seasonal trend. For three years, authorities have found the most sophisticated tunnels shortly before the winter holidays in what officials speculate is an attempt by drug smugglers to take advantage of Mexico's fall marijuana harvest.
The discovery of the 600m tunnel resulted in seizures of 32 tons of marijuana, one of the largest pot busts in US history, said Derek Benner, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's special agent in charge of investigations in San Diego. It linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana and was equipped with lighting and ventilation.
"This is an incredibly efficient tunnel designed to move a lot of narcotics," Benner told The Associated Press.
Authorities recovered nearly 17 tons of marijuana at the warehouse in San Diego's Otay Mesa area, nearly 12 tons inside a truck in Los Angeles and about 4 tons in Mexico. Several arrests were made on the US side of the border.
"I would say it's probably as sophisticated as any (tunnel) we've ever seen," said William Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego.
As US authorities heighten enforcement on land, tunnels have emerged as a major tack to smuggle marijuana. More than 70 passages have been found on the border since October 2008, surpassing the number of discoveries in the previous six years
Two weeks ago, authorities seized 17 tons of marijuana in connection with a tunnel that linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana.
Raids last November on two tunnels linking San Diego and Tijuana netted a combined 52 tons of marijuana on both sides of the border. In early December 2009, authorities found an incomplete tunnel that stretched nearly 900 feet into San Diego from Tijuana, equipped with an elevator at the Mexican entrance.
Authorities say central Mexico's marijuana harvest in early October presents drug cartels with a familiar challenge for any farmer: how to quickly get products to consumers.
"It's a significant amount of inventory that the cartels need to move and they need to move it in the most expeditious and efficient way," Benner said. "It's like any other business. You've got a pile of inventory that you need to get moving and generate profits."
Sherman said drug traffickers also may go on a pre-Christmas smuggling push to give themselves a "little bit of hiatus" over the holidays to visit family in Mexico. DEA wiretaps tend to go quiet during the holidays, he said.
It's unclear whether cartels are building the tunnels in time for the winter holidays or if that's when authorities are finding them thanks to increased smuggling activity.
Some U.S. authorities are inclined to think the cartels are timing construction for the fall harvest because this year's two major finds in San Diego and one last year in San Diego were discovered shortly after they were completed. Heightened activity around building and operating the tunnels has drawn suspicion and exposed smugglers to getting caught.
It takes roughly six months to a year to build a tunnel, authorities say. Workers use shovels and pickaxes to slowly dig through the soil, sleeping in the warehouse until the job is done. Sometimes they use pneumatic tools.
Many tunnels are clustered around San Diego, California's Imperial Valley and Nogales, Arizona, California is popular because its clay-like soil is easy to dig. In Nogales, smugglers tap into vast underground drainage canals.
San Diego's Otay Mesa area has the added draw that there are plenty of nondescript warehouses on both sides of the border to conceal trucks getting loaded with drugs. Its streets hum with semitrailers by day and fall silent on nights and weekends.
After last November's twin finds, US authorities launched a campaign to alert Otay Mesa warehouse landlords to warning signs. Landlords were told to look for construction equipment, piles of dirt, sounds of jackhammers and the scent of unburned marijuana.
The tunnel discovered Tuesday featured a wooden staircase at the US entrance, located inside a large, white building with a long line of trucking docks. The Mexican entry point was on the same block as a federal police office and featured a hydraulic lift at the tunnel entrance. Neither the US nor the Mexican warehouse had exterior signs.
The carpeted floors of the Tijuana warehouse were found littered with garbage and dirty linen. The kitchen was stocked with tortillas and oranges, with a window painted black.
No arrests were made in Mexico.
US authorities linked last November's twin discoveries to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, that country's most-wanted drug lord. No link has been established for the latest find.
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2/12/2011 10:30:15 a.m.
Actually Gerald I didn’t say Marijuana should be legal anywhere in my post! In fact I think Marijuana, Alcohol and Tobacco should all be banned. Tobacco stinks, gives people Asthma, Lung Cancer, Heart Disease and costs us a fortune in health care. Alcohol is even worse, the Devil in a bottle for all the damage it does and like it or not Marijuana smokers are lazy, the smoke is carcinogenic and many go on to develop mental problems ranging from mild Paranoia to Schizophrenia. None of them are any good! I understand some people drink beer, smoke marijuana, insufflate cocaine, and have riotous sex for hours and hours calling this fun. In the words of Jesus Christ they don’t know the error of their ways and hell awaits them; just ask God.
2/12/2011 5:07:21 a.m.
the united states draconian laws regarding cannabis are only sending jobs over the border and money to violent drug cartels. LEGALIZE
1/12/2011 5:21:23 p.m.
Wiseacre and Nigel Holly are absolutely correct. Pity poor old Jill is still immersed in ignorance and hypocrisy. Alcohol by any measure has done more harm to users and others. It is prohibition and drug profiteering which drives the Mexican and American criminals, take the criminality off the product and they virtually vanish. Hemp, from which marijuana is derived, is one of the most beneficial plants, many products can be made from the one plant. Research it, it is sheer lunacy what crooked politicians can be bribed to do by their corporate masters. Hemp, which has less THC, would be a tremendous benefit to farmers as a cash crop and the many products derived from the plant would create thousands of productive employment opportunities. So ask, why not?
1/12/2011 4:10:13 p.m.
@jill -- All those things you mention - the killing, the smuggling, the human trafficking, the forced prostitution, etc - have nothing to do with cannabis and everything to do with prohibition. Prohibition is an abdication of responsibility by the state. It is prohibition that gives the cartels & dealers a valuable, tax-free, un-regulated market to exploit. Legalisation, regulation and taxation of cannabis would take it out of the hands of the criminal networks and bring control over it back to the state.
People need to grow up and recognise that what intelligent, informed, free-thinking adults choose to consume in the privacy of their own home - while doing no harm to anybody else - is not the Government's business. Rather than constantly looking to ban any intoxicant that isn't *their* choice of intoxicant - alcohol - recognise that a lot of people see the immense harm that alcohol causes and are looking for a safer alternative.
Cannabis is not going to go away simply because some closed-minded people trying to legislate morality wish it to.
1/12/2011 2:30:47 p.m.
There must be a statistically significant correlation between the amount of Marijuana seized and the occurrence of cancer. But not for the reasons you all assume. Alcohol will give you cancer far more readily than smoking Marijuana. In fact Alcohol is more carcinogenic than tobacco and it gives you cancer more quickly. So a shortage of Marijuana increases alcohol consumption in the community, therefore the occurrence of Cancer. Hence the effective enforcement of Marijuana prohibition leads to more Cancer. If you are a pot smoker you probably won’t get Cancer but if you are a regular drinker it is almost guaranteed!
1/12/2011 1:56:48 p.m.
@holly, if you smoke less, then you will have a sane mind like other normal people to know that these are the same bunch of people who involve in killing, smuggling cocaine, human traffic, force prostitution etc.
You're obvious very proud to support them financially.
1/12/2011 11:57:39 a.m.
Imagine the free up of police and other resources if marijuana was made legal/decriminalised. They could focus on real crimes and drugs that are actually harmful to society .
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