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Contraband
12/14/2010

ICE discovers tunnel, pot in Nogales

A trap door enabled smugglers to pass marijuana bundles from the tunnel's exit directly into the back of the cargo van.
A trap door enabled smugglers to pass marijuana bundles from the tunnel's exit directly into the back of the cargo van.

NOGALES, Ariz. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents seized more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana and identified a cross-border smuggling tunnel Monday in Nogales, Ariz.

Agents conducting surveillance in Nogales identified a white Ford panel van that appeared to riding low to the ground. The van was later observed leaving the parking lot of the Mariposa Clinic and agents saw a cylindrical bundle fall out of the vehicle. HSI agents then conducted a traffic stop on the van, which was found to contain 2,194 pounds of packaged marijuana. The marijuana bundles resembled previous seizures in which tunnels were used to smuggle narcotics from Mexico into the United States.

"Whenever we identify bundles that appear to have come through a tunnel, it's all hands on deck until we can identify the source," said Kevin Kelly, assistant special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Nogales. "In this case, we called in the Border Patrol and the Nogales Police Department and we were able to find the illicit tunnel east of the Morley Pedestrian Port of Entry."

The tunnel, which is approximately 13 feet long, exits in the United States at a 10-inch diameter hole cut through the street surface. The tunnel entrance in Mexico is directly against the International Border Fence and covered with a piece of plywood.

Secretaria De Seguridad Publica Federal (SSP) and Mexican military responded to the area and secured the tunnel entrance in Mexico. The City of Nogales covered the tunnel exit with a steel plate once the tunnel investigation was complete. The illicit tunnel will be guarded by Nogales Border Patrol until it is rendered unusable. Officials in Mexico intend to fill the entrance with concrete today.

The driver of the van fled and avoided arrest; a passenger was arrested and is facing federal charges for possession of narcotics with the intent to distribute and reentry after deportation of an aggravated felon. An criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.