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Cross-border drug tunnel found beneath Nogales home

Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations working as part of a border task force uncovered a cross-border tunnel late Tuesday night in Nogales, Ariz., arresting two men and seizing more than 200 pounds of narcotics, including methamphetamine. 

The 82-foot-long tunnel was discovered when HSI agents, and officials with the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, executed a federal warrant on a home on North Morley Avenue, close to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The tunnel, which was about eight feet down, 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. 

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, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the parent agency of HSI. 

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. 

In less than a year, officials have discovered five tunnels 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. 

Along with Tuesday's discovery, the list includes an incomplete tunnel found on Dec. 5 that extended about 20 feet into the United States.

The investigation began earlier this year when investigators were told that drug traffickers were smuggling "large quantities" of narcotics through the cross-border sewer pipe.

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Around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night, agents executed the warrant, and immediately arrested 33-year-old Jovany Robledo-Delgado, a Mexican citizen. 

As they searched the property, they found materials "consistent with narcotics packaging" in the front room, and as they searched the tunnel, they found 24-year-old Jesus Guillermo Martinez Selgado, also identified as a Mexican citizen, attempting to make his way to the exit. 

Agents found nearly 200 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly two pounds of white heroin, nearly three pounds of cocaine, and over six pounds of fentanyl in the home. 

According to court documents, Robledo told agents he was paid $200 to help construct the tunnel, and he earned $3,000 "per smuggling attempt" after the tunnel was completed. Meanwhile, Martinez told agents that he was forced to work in the tunnel to pay off a debt he owed to the drug smuggling organization, and was paid  $500 to carry packages into the building. 

Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix, said that it was "no surprise" that special agents working with BEST and the Joint Port Enforcement Group were able to dismantle "an operational drug tunnel along the border. 

"As this investigation makes clear, we remain focused on exposing border crime and combatting the cartels’ increasingly unabashed underground smuggling tactics," Brown said. 

Both men are citizens of Mexico, and are facing charges of  possession and conspiracy to distribute hard narcotics, and faced their initial appearance in front of a judge on Wednesday, Pitts-O'Keefe said. 

In May, a similar sweep discovered an incomplete tunnel about 75 yards west of the Dennis DeConcini border crossing in downtown Nogales. Like this most recent tunnel, the tunnel found in May did not open into the U.S., but rested more than a dozen feet below a parking lot in Nogales, Ariz. That tunnel was about 17 feet long, and extended about 12 feet into the U.S.

In October, officials found a 29-foot long tunnel that was not-yet-complete. 

And, last December, Border Patrol agents conducting a similar sweep found an incomplete 50-foot tunnel that extended about 44 feet into the United States just beneath the port's parking lot. 

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Also, a traffic lane at the DeConcini port was closed in March after a remediated tunnel collapsed, causing a minor disruption to traffic at the port. 

Tucson Sector Border Patrol officials have discovered 124 tunnels in the sector since 1990, most of them in the Nogales area. 

Authorities in Mexico and the U.S. will monitor and inspect the tunnel until it's properly secured and remediated with concrete filler, the spokesman said. 

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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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