YUMA, Ariz. - A civil engineer from Mexico made his initial appearance in state court here this morning to face charges stemming from his alleged role in the design and construction of a partially-completed drug tunnel discovered near San Luis, Ariz., last week.
Luis Carlos Ayala-Gonzalez, 54, of Coahuila, Mexico, was arrested Wednesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at a San Luis residence investigators suspect would eventually have served as the cross-border tunnel's outlet in the United States. Ayala-Gonzalez is charged with two counts of participating in a criminal syndicate, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of more than 12 years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by the Yuma County Attorney's Office.
Ayala-Gonzalez was taken into custody shortly before ICE agents executed a search warrant at the home, located at 1429 San Francisco Street. Inside they discovered large plastic pipes, sophisticated drilling equipment and journals documenting the construction of a tunnel. Mexican authorities have determined the tunnel originated beneath a residence across the international border in Mexico.
"While this tunnel wasn't finished, the quantity and quality of material found at the scene clearly shows this was a sophisticated operation," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of the Arizona ICE Office of Investigations. "Thanks to the Border Patrol's vigilance, this tunnel no longer poses a threat, but ICE's investigation into the circumstances surrounding its construction is continuing."
The tunnel was discovered by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol employee who noticed a spurt of cement coming out of a ventilation hole while he was driving just north of the international border. Border Patrol agents were inspecting the suspected tunnel when they observed suspicious activity at the nearby home on San Francisco Street. The agents detained Ayala-Gonzalez until ICE agents arrived to initiate a criminal investigation.
"The growing number of cross-border tunnels shows smugglers' desperation in the face of heightened border security, including the presence of an unprecedented number of Border Patrol agents, high-tech surveillance equipment, and additional fencing," said Paul A. Beeson, chief patrol agent of the Yuma Border Patrol Sector. "Confronted by these obstacles, smuggling organizations have resorted to going underground. The Border Patrol will continue to work with ICE and its other law enforcement partners to target the individuals responsible for these tunnels and bring them to justice."