Inside sophisticated drug smuggling 'super tunnel' - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Inside sophisticated drug smuggling 'super tunnel'

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SAN DIEGO (CNS/CBS 8) - Three suspected drug runners for a Mexican organized crime cartel were in custody Thursday following the discovery of an elaborate smuggling tunnel between warehouses in Tijuana and Otay Mesa.

Jose Arturo-Mendoza, Juan Pena-Osuna and Roman Ramos-Romero were arraigned on Thursday, facing three charges of possession and distributing 23 pounds of cocaine and 8 tons of marijuana.

Members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force found the subterranean passageway on Wednesday, seizing 325 pounds of cocaine along with more than eight tons of marijuana, according to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement.

It took teams of agents to get the drugs out of the tunnel and into their vehicles. Eventually it took forklifts to move the thousands of pounds of drugs that authorities say were seized before they hit the streets.

The tunnel -- outfitted with electricity, ventilation and a rail system -- had access points in Baja California, southwest of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, and in an industrial park on Siempre Viva on the San Diego side of the international border.

"Shored up wood frames and traps and rails are inside," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Laura Duffy.

It was the fifth cross-border "super tunnel" found in the region in the last three years, according to Duffy. The official investigation into this tunnel began earlier in the month near the same location where a similar tunnel was recently found.

"If (drug cartels) build them, we're going to find them," Duffy said during a late-afternoon briefing led by officials with various federal agencies near the site of the latest discovery. "And if we find them, we will destroy them."

Narcotics traffickers "spent years and tens and millions of dollars" in vain on the passageway and presumably will do likewise in the future, Duffy said.

"But these cartels are foolish to think they are shoveling under the radar," she said.

The painstakingly built underground shaft apparently was newly completed and apparently had yet to be used as a smuggling channel when it was uncovered, said Bill Sherman, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego Field Division.

"I think we're 100 percent confident as a group here (that) they did not move one gram of drugs through that tunnel," Sherman said.

High truck traffic is common in the Otay Mesa area where nearby workers said they wouldn't be able to suspect an elaborate drug smuggling operation. 

"There's always trucks here going it's really hard to tell who is suspicious and who isn't," said nearby worker Esteban Medellin.

In April, 2012, CBS News 8 gave you an exclusive look at San Diego's smuggling tunnels. The Border Tunnel Task Force showed the robot used to view what's inside the tunnels before agents will go down in the underground world of drug cartels. However, they report they've never seen this much cocaine in an underground passage.

"We are starting to see more cocaine go through these tunnels which we have never seen before. More cocaine through these ultra lights in the desert which we have never seen before. Those are acts of desperation." said Sherman.  

Agents said the tougher it is for cartels, the greater the amount of drugs and cocaine traffickers will try to push through U.S. borders.  

Authorities believe this tunnel is connected to the Sinaloa Cartel.  One of its highest-ranking members, Jose Sanchez-Villalobos is charged with 13 counts for building and controlling two major drug tunnels linking San Diego and Tijuana. 

In November 2010, agents seized about 22 tons of marijuana from a tunnel in Otay Mesa. In November, 2011, agents seized 32 tons of marijuana from another tunnel in Otay Mesa. They are considered to be the largest marijuana busts in U.S. history.  

Sanchez-Villalobos was arrested by the Mexican Army and he is waiting for extradition to the U.S.

The three suspects are scheduled for a detention hearing on Nov. 5.

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