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February 12, 2013Nogales, AZ, United StatesNarcotics

Nogales Tunnel Task Force shuts down cross-border tunnel

Nogales Tunnel Task Force shuts down cross-border tunnel

NOGALES, Ariz. – Federal authorities Wednesday shut down a just-completed, cross-border drug smuggling tunnel and seized more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana following a multi-agency investigation by the Nogales Tunnel Task Force, with significant assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol in Nogales.

Officers with the Tunnel Task Force, which is led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), were conducting surveillance in Nogales around noon and observed a van in a parking lot at the south end of Nelson Avenue, approximately 200 yards east of the Morley Pedestrian Gate. After noticing suspicious activity, the investigators approached the van, which was loaded with marijuana bundles. Two men near the van attempted to flee on foot, but were apprehended by task force officers not far from the tunnel and taken into custody.

Task force officers seized 22 bundles of marijuana from the van and 29 bundles of marijuana from inside the tunnel, weighing a total of 1,210 pounds.

The crude, hand-dug tunnel is approximately 68-feet-long and averages approximately two feet wide. The passageway does not contain any wooden shoring, ventilation or electrical equipment. The tunnel location closely parallels a March 2012 drug tunnel discovered in the same location. The tunnel entrance is located in the front yard of a private residence in Nogales, Mexico, and runs for approximately 26-feet underground before passing under the international boundary and running 42-feet on the U.S. side of the border. The tunnel exits on an embankment at the south end of Nelson Avenue.

Mexican authorities responded to the area and secured the tunnel entrance in Mexico. The tunnel will be guarded by Border Patrol agents until it is rendered unusable. The investigation remains ongoing, but investigators believe the tunnel had just been completed earlier Wednesday.

"Members of the Tunnel Task Force each bring unique capabilities from their respective agencies, which greatly enhances our ability to identify and interdict drug tunnels," said Eric Balliet, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Nogales. "In this case, the task force developed information that a tunnel was being excavated in the area. Through the diligence and hard work of all the participating agencies, we were able to shut this tunnel down just as it was completed, stopping its very first load of drugs."

In the last three years, federal authorities have discovered and shut down 26 completed cross-border smuggling tunnels in the Nogales area.

The Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) is an HSI-led, multi-agency U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities along U.S. borders. There are currently 34 BEST units deployed across the country, covering major seaports and southern and northern border regions. BEST units are composed of more than 750 law enforcement officers from more than 100 federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign law enforcement and intelligence resources.

BEST Nogales Tunnel Task Force is composed of full time members from HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Border Patrol, Nogales Police Department, the Santa Cruz County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. BEST Nogales Tunnel Task Force is responsible for identifying, investigating and eliminating illicit subterranean tunnels in one of the nation's busiest border areas with Mexico and combating the Transnational Criminal Organizations that finance, build and use them.