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Prosecutors say smuggler caught red-handed at tunnel

Prosecutors say smuggler caught red-handed at tunnel

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - We're learning more about a drug tunnel found near the border earlier this week, as one of the people arrested appears in court

For the first time, we're getting a look at one of the two people arrested in connection with the discovery of a cross-border drug tunnel.

Oceanside resident Carlos Enrique Cunningham faces a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana after he was caught driving a tractor-trailer with 10 tons of pot.

"Mister Cunningham or anybody charged in any criminal case in the United States of America is presumed 100 percent innocent," Cunningham's attorney Jeremy Warren said.

Federal agents were watching an Otay Mesa warehouse and saw Cunningham drive away Tuesday afternoon. He picked up his wife Iris in Chula Vista and the pair drove to the I-15 CHP weigh station in Temecula.

When agents opened the trailer, they saw double-stacked pallets containing marijuana. At the warehouse, authorities found 16 tons of pot and a 600-yard-long tunnel, which led to a stash house in Tijuana. The haul's street value was estimated at $20 million.

"These are just accusations and allegations made by government authorities, and we'll have to investigate the case, present the defense and it will be up to a jury to determine whether any of this is true," Warren said.

Carlos Enrique Cunningham has a pair of previous import convictions. In 2002 he was caught smuggling 111 pounds of cocaine, served 30 months and got three years probation. In 2005 he served 54 days behind bars and was put on probation again for smuggling 38 pounds of marijuana.

"In federal court there's a version of what in California is the "three strikes" law, there's a career offender provision and other ways that sentences can be dramatically increased based on someone's prior record," Warren said.

Televisa reporter Miguel Larre went into the tunnel on the Tijuana side, where investigators found five tons of pot. He says it was well-lit and ventilated, supported by wood and had a three-car rail system.

"We don't always have the opportunity to watch this operation of the cartels, and I think it's a good success also for the federal government of the United States and the Mexican Army," Larre said.

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