Investigators have uncovered dozens of cross-border drug tunnels over the years — but they say one raided this week in California is the first where pot smugglers bought a parcel of land and built an entire house over it.
The underground passageway running from the three-bedroom home in Calexico to a restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico, was nearly the length of four football fields and equipped with electricity, lighting and a rail system.
The traffickers spent $240,000 on the land and $86,000 on construction of the Calexico house, but the only marijuana they moved through it was intercepted, authorities said.
"I continue to be amazed by the ingenuity, the tenacity and the stupidity of people who dump so much time and money into a hole in the ground — seemingly unconcerned that they are doing so right under the noses of law enforcement," said Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California.
After scouting locations in Calexico, the smugglers settled on a lot 300 yards north of the border and finalized the sale in April. As construction plans got underway in the fall, the feds were listening in on wiretaps, according to court documents.
The owners told the contractor to leave space for a floor safe when the concrete foundation was poured — but it was really meant for the tunnel exit, which was opened up in December, investigators said.
Starting in late February, the crew allegedly began using the tunnel — 32 feet below the surface — to transport narcotics from the restaurant to the house and then to a series of stash sites before they could be driven north. On March 7, agents seized more than 1,350 pounds of marijuana before it hit the streets.
When they raided the house, capping a 16-month federal investigation, Customs and Homeland Security agents found more plastic-wrapped packages of marijuana in the tunnel. All told, pot with a retail value of $6 million was taken in the operation.