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California trucker sentenced for hauling tons of marijuana smuggled through cross-border tunnel

Marijuana seizure one the largest in U.S. history; investigation continues

SAN DIEGO - A Southern California truck driver was sentenced Monday to nearly 22 years in federal prison after pleading guilty in January to conspiracy to distribute approximately 10 tons of marijuana that had been smuggled through a sophisticated cross-border tunnel on the San Diego-Tijuana border.

Carlos Cunningham Jr.'s 260-month sentence is the first in an ongoing federal probe into the cross-border tunnel discovered in November 2010 by agents from the San Diego Tunnel Task Force that led to one of the largest marijuana seizures in U.S. history.

The 28-year-old truck driver was arrested Nov. 2 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Border Patrol checkpoint in Temecula, Calif. Inside the trailer Cunningham was hauling, agents found nearly 10 tons of marijuana tightly packed in large cargo boxes.

Federal agents had followed the tractor-trailer driven by Cunningham as it left a warehouse in an Otay Mesa industrial complex that morning. Following the marijuana seizure, federal agents executed a search warrant at the warehouse and discovered a 600-yard drug smuggling tunnel linked to a warehouse in a vacant commercial building in Tijuana, Mexico.

Later that day, authorities from the Task Force announced they had seized approximately 30 tons of marijuana in total, which included the 19,400 pounds found inside Cunningham's trailer, 16 tons from the warehouse where the tunnel ended on the U.S. side, and nearly five tons discovered on the Mexican side of the tunnel.

The tunnel investigation is being conducted by the multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force, comprised of federal agents from ICE HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. The agents work together investigating tunneling activity along the California-Mexico border.

To date, authorities have discovered 156 tunnels along the northern and southern border of the United States. Most of the tunnel attempts were discovered in California and Arizona. Nearly 78 percent of them have occurred since Oct. 2005. More than one-third involved sophisticated tunnel attempts that included reinforcement, forced air ventilation, electricity and/or rail systems.