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Border Busts

People have tried to smuggle drugs and people across the U.S.-Mexico border in various ways.

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This story has 9 updates

Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

SAN DIEGO — A second defendant has been charged in connection with a cross-border drug-smuggling tunnel discovered last week by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force.

Gilberto Quezada-Madrid appeared in federal court Monday on charges of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises and use of a cross-border tunnel.

Quezada-Madrid, 26, was denied bail, pending a detention hearing Thursday.

According to a criminal complaint, agents with Homeland Security Investigations, part of the task force, connected Quezada-Madrid with suspected tunnels in San Diego and Tijuana, including numerous sightings dating to 2013.

Eight days ago on March 31, agents watched as the defendant arrived at a warehouse at 10145 Via de la Amistad. The next day, agents found a concealed cross-border tunnel in the warehouse and learned the entry point was in a storage business, Mini Bodegas de la Frontera, in Tijuana about 800 feet south of the border, authorities said.

Two days later, members of the Tunnel Task Force, in collaboration with enforcement counterparts in Mexico, uncovered a second tunnel linking an Otay Mesa building in an industrial park to a warehouse in Tijuana.

Bizarre Border Busts

PHOTOS; Bizarre Border Busts

The first tunnel — about 600 yards long — was found Tuesday night, based on evidence developed during a five-month probe, according to authorities. The passageway — equipped with lighting, a rail system and wooden trusses — led to the de la Amistad warehouse. The entrance was a roughly a 70- foot shaft topped by a cement cover.

The builders installed a pulley system at the tunnel’s U.S. entrance to hoist contraband out of the tunnel.

The warehouse was filled with a variety of children’s toys, including plastic three-wheelers, and boxes of televisions, similar to the merchandise found in the warehouse linked to a smuggling tunnel found in October.

On Wednesday, Glennys Rodriguez, 73, who allegedly coordinated logistics at the Via de la Amistad warehouse, was arrested.

The other tunnel was found Thursday as Mexican investigators, working with U.S. law enforcement agencies, followed up on leads arising from the discovery of the first tunnel.

The tunnels were the sixth and seventh of their kind found in the San Diego area in less than four years. If laid end-to-end, the seven tunnels would extend a distance of nearly two miles.

SAN DIEGO — Federal agents working with Mexican authorities uncovered two sophisticated tunnels from Mexico to warehouses in Otay Mesa, federal officials said Friday.


Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The first tunnel was discovered Tuesday evening as the result of a five-month investigation by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack said. The tunnel is about 600 yards long and ends inside a warehouse at 10145 Via de la Amistad.

The tunnel entrance is a 70-foot shaft equipped with a pulley system to hoist smuggled goods into the warehouse, according to an ICE news release. The underground passage is reinforced with wooden trusses, has electric lighting and a crude rail system.

Bizarre Border Busts

PHOTOS; Bizarre Border Busts

Investigators arrested a 73-year-old Chula Vista woman on Wednesday. Glennys Rodriguez is suspected of supervising operations at the warehouse. She is charged in a criminal complaint with conspiring to maintain a “drug-involved premises” and made her initial court appearance in the case on Thursday, according to ICE.

A second more sophisticated tunnel was discovered Thursday with help from Mexican investigators. It ends in another warehouse at 10005 Marconi Drive. The 700-yard tunnel has a multi-level electric rail system and ventilation, investigators said.

“Here we are again, foiling cartel plans to sneak millions of dollars of illegal drugs through secret passageways that cost millions of dollars to build,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “Going underground is not a good business plan. We have promised to locate these super tunnels and keep powerful drug cartels from taking their business underground and out of sight, and once again, we have delivered on that promise.”

Agents did not find any drugs in either warehouse, but over the past four years they found five other cross-border tunnels in San Diego County and confiscated more than 100 tons of narcotics associated with the tunnels.

Federal authorities have found five other cross-border tunnels in San Diego County the last four years. Since 2006, they have detected at least 80 underground passageways used by smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them in California and Arizona, officials said.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A Tijuana municipal police officer is expected to be arraigned in federal court Wednesday on drug trafficking charges.

Bizarre Border Busts

PHOTOS; Bizarre Border Busts

Noe Raygoza Garcia, 33, was indicted March 27 on federal charges of possessing heroin and methamphetamine for distribution. He was arrested on March 13 on Interstate 15 near the Border Patrol checkpoint north of Temecula after officers saw him driving erratically.

When officers pulled Raygoza over, he told them he was traveling to visit a dying uncle in San Bernardino, but under questioning he couldn’t say where his uncle lived or why he was dying, according to court documents.

The officers searched his car and allegedly found 11 packages of heroin and methamphetamine under the seats of his car. The drugs weighed more than 10 pounds.

Raygoza faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted. He is being held without bail.

SAN DIEGO — An attempt to smuggle 369 pounds of marijuana hidden in cartons of squash was foiled at the Otay Mesa port of entry on Monday, border officials announced this morning.

The marijuana was found hidden in produce being trucked into the country aboard a tractor-trailer, according to the agency. That vehicle was driven by a 29-year-old Mexican citizen who lives in Ensenada, according to the agency.

In a separate bust, $1.3 million worth of heroin was found inside a hidden compartment built into the wheels of a vehicle driven by a 46-year-old Mexican citizen, who lives in San Diego, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Drivers in both busts were taken into custody.

SAN DIEGO – An attempt to sneak into the country via shrink-wrap failed Wednesday when border agents had to rescue one woman who was unable to breathe.

Agents found 19 people hiding inside one of three air conditioning ventilation units on a semi-tractor trailer around 9 a.m. at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Border Busts

Trained Emergency Medical Technicians and San Diego Fire-Rescue immediately provided medical attention to the woman hyperventilating in the truck.

She was transported to a Chula Vista Hospital for further care, according to officials.

The remaining 18 were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the incident remains under investigation.

PINE VALLEY, Calif. – Nearly a dozen bundles of crystal meth were discovered in a truck at the Pine Valley checkpoint, U.S. Border Patrol officials said Monday.

Agents searched a 20-year-old man’s 2010 Nissan Sentra at the checkpoint on Interstate 8 around 10:45 a.m. Friday, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.  A drug-sniffing dog alerted agents to the car, and they found a hidden compartment in the trunk.

A large, black trash bag filled with bundles of crystal methamphetamine was discovered inside the compartment, agents said.

The driver was arrested, the drugs were turned over to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force and the vehicle was seized by U.S. Border Patrol.

The bundles weighed 22.7 pounds and had an estimated street value of $261,165.


Liquid meth being emptied from the gas tank of a Ford F-150 pickup

SAN DIEGO — Federal agents nabbed three would-be drug smugglers attempting to sneak millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine over the U.S-Mexico line in San Diego last weekend, authorities reported Tuesday.

The first suspected trafficker, a 32-year-old El Monte woman, drove a black 2008 Chevrolet Malibu into Otay Mesa Port of Entry from Tijuana about 4:15 p.m. Sunday, according to Customs and Border Protection public affairs.

After noticing suspicious-looking items in the car, inspectors searched it with a service dog, finding 22 pounds of liquid methamphetamine inside nine juice cans in the trunk and another 51 pounds of the drug in 34 packages hidden in a non-factory compartment behind the rear passenger seat.

The narcotic haul had a total estimated street value of roughly $1.03 million.

About 90 minutes later, officers staffing San Ysidro Port of Entry were looking over a white 1995 Ford F-150 when they noticed that the driver appeared nervous.

They referred the 32-year-old woman and her 36-year-old female passenger, both U.S. citizens who live in San Bernardino County, to a secondary search area. There, the personnel discovered 107 pounds of liquid methamphetamine worth about $2.14 million concealed in the gas tank of the pickup truck.

All three suspects were turned over to Homeland Security Investigation agents. The women’s names were not released. CBP officers seized the vehicles and narcotics.

OTAY MESA, Calif. – A shipment of limes were confiscated by US Customs and Border Protection officers at the Otay Mesa cargo facility after 270 wrapped packages of marijuana were found inside, authorities announced Monday.

CBP officers examined a 1994 Kenworth tractor with a trailer packed with a shipment of limes on Friday around 4:45 p.m.

An intensive inspection using the port’s imaging system detected anomalies within the cardboard boxes of limes and detector dogs alerted officers to the cargo, CBP said.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Border Busts

According to officers, more than 1,600 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $730,350 was concealed inside the fruit shipment.

The driver, a 47-year-old man from Tijuana, was arrested and transported to Metropolitan Correctional Center, CBP said.

SAN DIEGO – Firefighters rescued more than two dozen people trapped in a storm drain near the Mexico border Thursday.

Homelands Security officials called the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department at about 3 a.m. to report that more than 20 people who were in a drain pipe at Border Village Road and Virginia Avenue in San Ysidro.


PHOTOS: Bizarre Border Busts

The people were discovered in the drain pipe following a report that two vehicles plowed through the U.S.-Mexico border fence, Border Patrol agent Jacopo Bruni said.

“Two Ford F-150 pickup trucks and a GMC Safari crashed through two gates north of the former Mexican customs compound, adjacent to the San Ysidro border crossing,” said Bruni. “They went northbound on I-5 at a high rated speed.”

Bruni said the group abandoned their vehicles along the freeway and an agent spotted one of the suspects near a storm drain.

Fire crews put a ladder down a manhole and 25 people climbed out.

Three people were taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries. The rest were turned over to Homeland Security officers.

Border officials said it’s one of the most desperate attempts they’ve seen in a while to try to cross the border illegally.

“I think it’s really telling of the level of desperation these criminal organizations are going through. We’ve made it difficult for them to operate,” added Bruni.