Feb 14, 2013 12:58 AM by Robby Messer

Agents release new details about drug tunnel bust

NOGALES - Federal agents shut down a drug tunnel along the Nogales-U.S. border Wednesday.

The operation was carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and led to the recovery of 1,200 pounds of marijuana.

Officers with the Nogales Tunnel Task Force were conducting surveillance in the area 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 discovered 22 bundles of marijuana in the van and 29 bundles of marijuana inside the tunnel, weighing a total of 1,210 pounds.

The tunnel is approximately 68 feet long and averages approximately two feet wide. Agents also tell News 4 the location closely parallels a March 2012 drug tunnel discovered in the same area.

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 another 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.

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