Dec 14, 2010 5:00 PM

ICE agents find smuggling tunnel, seize 2,100 pounds of pot

NOGALES - Homeland security agents at the border found a 13-foot smuggling tunnel between the U.S. and Mexico and seized more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana yesterday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the Homeland Security Investigations division noticed a van riding low to the ground while conducting surveillance in Nogales Monday. Agents saw a cylindrical bundle fall out of the vehicle, conducted a traffic stop, and found 2,194 pounds of packaged marijuana in the van.

ICE officials say the driver fled and avoided arrest; agents arrested the passenger and charged him with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute and reentry after deportation of an aggravated felon.

The bundles were similar to previous seizures in which a tunnel had been used to smuggle drugs from Mexico to the U.S, ICE officials say.

"Whenever we identify bundles that appear to have come through a tunnel, it's all hands on deck until we can identify the source," said Kevin Kelly, assistant special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Nogales. "In this case, we called in the Border Patrol and the Nogales Police Department and we were able to find the illicit tunnel east of the Morley Pedestrian Port of Entry."

The 13-foot-long tunnel had a 10-inch hole cut through the street surface of the U.S. side of the border, ICE officials say. The Mexican entrance was directly against the International Border Fence and was covered with a piece of plywood.

Secretaria De Seguridad Public Federal and the Mexican military secured the tunnel entrance in Mexico, and the City of Nogales covered the tunnel exit with a steel plate. Officials in Mexico plan to fill the entrance with concrete today, rendering it unusable.

Pictured: The U.S.-side exit of the smuggling tunnel - a 10-inch-diameter hole cut through the street.

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