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February 23, 2015Naco, AZ, United StatesNarcotics

$3 million marijuana bust leads to discovery of sophisticated smuggling tunnel

NACO, Ariz. — Federal agents continue to investigate Tuesday morning’s discovery of a sophisticated cross-border drug tunnel uncovered overnight in Naco, following a traffic stop by local police that yielded more than two tons of marijuana. 

The investigation began late Monday after special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations received a tip regarding the movement of a possible marijuana load in the Bisbee area. HSI alerted Bisbee Police Department (BPD) officers, who pulled over a box truck shortly before 6:30 p.m. on the city’s outskirts. A Tucson Sector Border Patrol canine team assisting in the operation alerted to the rear of the truck, where officers found more than 4,700 pounds of marijuana bundled and stacked.

“The Bisbee Police Department supports the efforts of its local officers and appreciates the continued support of the U.S. Border Patrol and HSI, which provide assistance on a regular basis,” said Bisbee Police Staff Sergeant Robert Coronado.

Based on evidence uncovered by the BPD and Tucson Sector Border Patrol, HSI agents obtained a warrant to search a residence on South Humphrey Avenue in Naco. Before dawn, HSI and Border Patrol investigators arrived at the location and soon discovered the entrance to an underground tunnel inside a small shed at the edge of the property. Following the discovery, members of the Border Patrol’s specially trained tunnel team were dispatched to the scene. 

According to investigators, the tunnel, which is shored-up by wooden supports, is accessed by a cement shaft equipped with a hydraulic lift. Near the U.S. entrance, the underground corridor is large enough for an adult to stand upright. However, concerns about air quality hampered initial efforts to access the shaft’s full length.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials alerted Mexican authorities about the discovery and law enforcement there is working to locate the tunnel’s opening in Mexico.

“With this discovery we’ve dealt another significant blow to the Mexican drug cartels and proven yet again that going underground is not a workaround to evade law enforcement,” said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. “Last night’s chain of events is also a testament to the outstanding unity of effort by federal and local investigators in Arizona who are committed to combatting this threat.”

“When partnered law enforcement agencies come together, the odds are greatly increased that criminal organizations will have less success,” said Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla Jr. “Not only is it a win-win situation for law enforcement partners, we also make the communities in which we live and serve safer.”

Two men have been detained so far in connection with the investigation, the driver of the box truck and a second suspect who was encountered at the Naco residence. Additionally, authorities have seized three weapons. The case remains ongoing at this time.

Since 2006, federal authorities have detected and dismantled more than 80 cross-border smuggling tunnels, most of them in California and Arizona.

Updated: 02/24/2015