Feb 11, 2014 8:11 PM by Stefanie Boe

481-foot illicit drug tunnel found in Nogales

NOGALES - A 481-foot drug tunnel has been found in Nogales, Arizona. It's the longest tunnel ever discovered in the border city. The bust followed a multi-agency investigation by the Nogales Tunnel Task Force.

According to a news release, the task force also arrested three men and seized more than 640 pounds of marijuana and a half pound of heroin during the takedown.

Jose Solorzano-Flores, 41, and Jose Mario Armenta-Valdez, 41, both of Mexico, and Jesus Alberto Ramirez-Valencia, 22, of Nogales, Ariz., were charged with drug conspiracy charges in a federal complaint.

The men made their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Tucson Tuesday afternoon.

The tunnel runs between two private residences in Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. It's accessed by shafts at each end.

The tunnel stretches 411 feet from the U.S entrance to the international border and extends for another 70 feet into Mexico. The passageway is roughly two feet wide by three feet tall, and contains wood shoring, electric lighting and fans to circulate air inside.

The tunnel was discovered after task force members developed information that drug smuggling activity was occurring at a private residence in Nogales. While conducting surveillance on the house Monday night, task force members observed a vehicle, driven by Ramirez-Valencia, leave the residence. After following the vehicle to a second house, task force members and Nogales police approached Ramirez-Valencia, who consented to having the vehicle searched. Inside the truck, authorities found 24 bales of marijuana weighing 590 pounds. They also encountered Solorzano-Flores outside the house.

Later that night, the HSI Special Response Team served a federal search warrant on the first house and discovered Armenta-Valdez inside. Authorities subsequently found the tunnel entrance on the lower level of the house. A half pound of heroin was found inside the house and two bundles of marijuana weighing 46 pounds were found inside the tunnel.

"This was one of the more complex and exhausting tunnels to investigate in recent Nogales tunnel history," said Kevin Hecht, deputy patrol agent in charge of Nogales Station Border Patrol. "The investigation would not have been completed without the cooperation of DEA, HSI, Nogales Border Patrol and Mexican authorities."


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