Man admits to drug-smuggling via underwater tunnel

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SAN DIEGO — A Honduran national admitted in federal court in San Diego Wednedsay to donning a wet suit and scuba gear last spring and smuggling 55 pounds of cocaine through an underwater drug tunnel that exited into an aqueduct just north of the international border in Imperial County.

Evelio Padilla-Zepeda, 28, pleaded guilty to possession of and intent to distribute a controlled substance. He will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in December, according to prosecutors.

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. April 25, U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling about seven miles east of Calexico West Port of Entry received information from a remote video-surveillance operator that there was a unknown person alongside the All-American Canal.

The officers searched the southern embankment of the man-made waterway and found Padilla-Zepeda. He was soaking wet and wearing a wet suit, court documents state.

Agents detained him and continued to search the immediate area, finding 25 vacuum-sealed, weighted and gift-wrapped packages of cocaine, plus scuba tanks and diving equipment. Among the gear were two re-breather tanks, which capture a diver’s exhaled breath, preventing tell-tale bubbles.

Authorities subsequently found a roughly 50-yard-long tunnel extending under the border from Mexicali, Mexico, to the south bank of the canal. The U.S. exit point was partially submerged and covered with rocks that had to be moved to access the opening, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

Padilla-Zepeda conceded in court to having carried the illicit drug haul through the underwater passageway and admitted that he intended to use his scuba gear to transport it to another location in the All-American Canal.

“This investigation demonstrates the incredible lengths that these drug trafficking organizations will go to ensure that their product makes it to the streets,” said William Sherman, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego.

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