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Agents discover cross-border tunnel along Arizona border with Mexico

(Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

PHOENIX — A traffic stop last week led border agents to discover a cross-border tunnel used to smuggle drugs into the United States from Mexico.

“I do not have a precise date of when the tunnel was built,” Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown told reporters Wednesday.

“Every indication we have is it was built within the last few months — probably around the start of summer.”

“Ultimately, the ownership of the tunnel goes back to the Sinaloa Cartel,” he added.

The tunnel is 590 feet long and 22 feet deep. It was mainly used to smuggle hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, into the U.S. from Mexico.

The entrance to the tunnel on the U.S. side of the border was found inside a kitchen of an abandoned KFC restaurant in San Luis, Arizona. The end point on the Mexican side of the border was found underneath a bed at a house.

“The opening into the U.S. was only about 8 inches in diameter — not large enough for a person to pass through,” Brown said. “The 8-inch open was cut in the concrete slab floor of the restaurant.”

He said a traffic stop led border agents to discover the tunnel. San Luis police officers stopped Ivan Lopez, a resident of Yuma and owner of the KFC where the tunnel was found, while he was driving a pick-up truck with a trailer.

A canine unit alerted officers to two toolboxes on the trailer. They were packed with 168 kilograms of hard narcotics.

Brown said the drugs consisted of 118 kilograms of methamphetamine, six kilograms of cocaine, three kilograms of fentanyl, 13 kilograms of white heroin and six kilograms of brown heroin.

A search warrant was issued for Lopez’s house and the abandoned restaurant, after authorities discovered he had been seeing removing the toolboxes from the abandoned restaurant prior to the traffic stop.

Lopez has been charged with four counts of possession of intent to distribute narcotics.

Anthony Porvaznik, chief of the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, said border agents will seal the tunnel and fill it with cement after an investigation is completed.

He said this is the fifth tunnel found in the Yuma Sector since 2007, and it was found thanks to the collaboration of various law enforcement agencies.

“This is another fine example of how a network of federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies can degrade or defeat a network of sophisticated transnational criminal organizations,” Porvaznik said.

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