An underwater drug tunnel used to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico has been discovered following the capture of a drug smuggler wearing scuba gear, CNN is reporting.
Honduran national Evelio Padilla-Zepeda pleaded guilty Wednesday to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in federal court in San Diego. He was captured in April by Border Patrol agents along the All-American Canal in Calexico, California, soaking wet and wearing a wetsuit.
Near Padilla-Zepeda’s exit point from the underwater drug tunnel, according to MSN, was a “re-breather” (a piece of scuba equipment that doesn’t emit the wearer’s waste gas into the water via bubbles; by using a re-breather in the tunnel, smugglers could avoid having bubbles give away their position), as well as 55 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated street value of $1.8 million, individually wrapped in 25 vacuum-sealed, weighted bags.
Investigators searching the underwater drug tunnel discovered that it began, on the Mexican side, under a house in Mexical, Mexico. Drugs entered the tunnel through a trolley system, where divers wearing scuba gear would retrieve them under the water. From there, the tunnel extended 150 feet underneath the U.S. – Mexico border, emerging on the U.S. side at the All-American Canal in Calexico, California. The American exit from the underwater drug tunnel was partially obscured by rocks.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement that drug smugglers will go to just about any length to get their goods into the United States.
“Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product — even scuba diving in an underwater tunnel. The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it, as we have done in this case.”
Tunnels – whether underground or underwater – are a favorite tool of Mexican criminals, who use them to smuggle people, drugs, and sometimes themselves to and fro. At least 100 tunnels have been found by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexican border, according to Time, since 2001. And Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”) has at least twice used tunnels to escape from the law, most recently breaking out of prison via a tunnel underneath the prison where he was held, according to this Inquisitr report.
Evelio Padilla-Zepeda will be sentenced December 7; he faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.
As of this post, it is not clear if any other underwater drug tunnels have been discovered since Padilla-Zepeda’s arrest.