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Nogales man gets 41 months in prison for cross-border drug tunnel

82-foot long tunnel breached a sewer, allowing smugglers to 'float' drugs into U.S., officials said

A Nogales-area man was sentenced in federal court to 41 months in prison for his role in the construction and use of a drug-smuggling tunnel used to move narcotics through a cross-border sewer system. 

Jovany Alonso Robledo-Delgado, 35, from Nogales, Sonora, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Scott H. Rash on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, and heroin through an 82-foot-long tunnel that breached the International Outfall Interceptor—a gravity wastewater pipeline that carries effluent from Nogales, Sonora, beneath its sister city in Arizona and then to a treatment plant in Rio Rico, Ariz.

Robledo-Delgado also faces 5 years probation.

Robledo-Delgado was arrested on Dec. 17, 2019, when federal agents raided a home he was renting in Nogales, Ariz., on North Morley Avenue near the U.S.-Mexico border. Agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, lead the raid as part of a border task force, after hearing that drug traffickers were smuggling "large quantities" of narcotics through the cross-border sewer pipe. 

The tunnel included a "reinforced passageway" that included a "sophisticated ventilation system equipped with tubing " and was reinforced with wooden beams, said Yasmeen Pitts-O'Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman. 

The tunnel was one of five discovered in under a year in a two-mile area of Nogales, running beneath the city's streets and the 18-foot-high "bollard" walls that remain topped with razor wire installed by National Guard troops in November 2018. Agents estimated that the tunnel has been in existence for a few months due "to the advanced construction and material used to excavate," Pitts-O'Keefe said. 

During the raid, agents found Robledo-Delgado hiding beneath a bed in the home, and he later admitted to constructing the tunnel so he could breach the sewer line and retrieve packages floated through the sewer into the U.S., receiving around $3,000 for each smuggling effort, according to a plea agreement signed in October 2020. 

In the tunnel, investigators found 18 packages of drugs,  each containing dozens of smaller packets of narcotics. This included nearly seven pounds of fentanyl, nearly 216 pounds of methamphetamine, and a few pounds of cocaine and heroin each. 

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Robledo-Delgado was one of two men indicted for conspiracy. Jesus Guillermo Martinez-Salgado, 26, was arrested by agents as they searched the man-made tunnel, attempting to flee. Martinez told investigators that he'd been paid $500 to work in the tunnel, carrying packages of drugs into the building. 

Martinez-Salgado was sentenced to two years in prison this April by Judge Rash, and faces 36 months probation.  

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A tunnel was found when agents with Homeland Security Investigations agents, a part U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, executed a search warrant in a home in Nogales, Arizona.

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