Smuggling Tunnel Found Beneath BorderARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN , Associated Press
May. 18, 1990 11:55 PM ET
DOUGLAS, ARIZ. DOUGLAS, Ariz. (AP) _ U.S. Customs agents on Friday unveiled a fortified tunnel under the U.S.-Mexican border and said it had been used to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine into this country.
''It was like something out of a James Bond movie,'' Customs spokeswoman Judy Turner said.
The tunnel dubbed ''Cocaine Alley'' was about the length of a football field and 30 feet underground, authorities said. They said the smuggling operation included a warehouse and elaborate entryways on both sides of the border.
U.S. authorities and Mexican Judicial Police raided the tunnel late Thursday, using jackhammers and torches to break in, said Thomas McDermott, head of the U.S. Customs Service in Arizona. Law enforcement officers found about 25 to 30 pounds of marijuana, but made no arrests.
McDermott told reporters that U.S. officials working with Mexican Judicial Police arrested two men earlier this month in connection with the smuggling ring.
McDermott said authorities also confiscated the Agua Prieta, Mexico, house of businessman Rafael Francisco Camarena and two of Camarena's businesses - Douglas Building Supply Co. and Douglas Redi-Mix Concrete. One entrance of the tunnel is in the house, and the other end was in a warehouse on the U.S. side of the border.
Camarena was not in custody. McDermott declined to say whether there was a warrant for his arrest.
In Mexico City, the Attorney General's Office said two people were arrested in the house. The Attorney General's communique was unclear if those were the same people mentioned as arrested by U.S. officials. Their names were withheld.
The northern end of the tunnel was in a Douglas Building warehouse built eight months ago about 200 feet north of the fence that divides the two cities. It was just one block from the unmarked Customs enforcement building and four blocks from the international port of entry.
McDermott said that in Camarena's house, excavation was hidden in the family room beneath an 8-by-12-foot concrete slab holding a pool table. He said that when an operator turned a small mechanism shaped like a garden faucet, a hydraulic lift boosted the slab, with pool table, about 5 feet into the air.
''It was a tremendously sophisticated operation,'' McDermott said. ''This the most unique smuggling operation I have ever come across.''
The tunnel was 5 feet high, 4 feet wide, well lighted, and lined with supports to prevent cave-ins, authorities said. At various points were compartments where up to 5 tons of drugs could be stashed.
Smugglers used a cart to load cocaine and ferry it through the tunnel, which was up to 40 feet below the surface on the Mexican side and 30 feet on the U.S. side, officials said.
On a tour of the warehouse, reporters were shown the northern entrance: a grate which, when lifted, revealed a 7-foot drop to a gangway about the size of a small bedroom. That led to a 30-foot-deep well down to the tunnel proper.
Over the well was a pulley and hoist system apparently used to raise drug packages.
The entrance and well were lined with concrete block.
''It was just an exceptionally, professionally engineered tunnel,'' Ms. Turner said. ''It was something that you and I in the ordinary world would only find in the movies.''
The smugglers were probably also using the tunnel to transport profits back to Mexico, said Drug Enforcement Administration agent Gerard Murphy.
McDermott said it probably took several months and $1.5 million to $2 million to build the tunnel. The house and the warehouse, which provided cover for moving large amounts of dirt, were built eight months ago.
McDermott said a geological survey team found the tunnel through tests which detected ''an anomaly, something below the ground that shouldn't be there.'' Further tests helped pinpoint the tunnel.
Ms. Turner said Customs agents who suspected the tunnel's existence used aerial surveillance to track the shipment of 2,258 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $102 million from Douglas to a spot outside Phoenix on May 11.
They confiscated the haul and arrested Caesar Thomas Howard, 44, of Mesa and Joseph Edward Osborn, 31, of Tempe.
The cocaine was transported from the warehouse in a false-bottomed, flatbed truck and had been destined for Southern California, McDermott said.
He said authorities knew of no other tunnels, but said they would be looking. ''This investigation is far from being over,'' McDermott said.