SAN DIEGO - With tougher drug enforcement above ground, authorities say traffickers along the U.S.-Mexican border were forced to dig deep below ground instead.
Inside a five-foot-wide tunnel, with just enough room for an adult to stand, authorities say they discovered two tons of marijuana this week, and what they believe was a passageway for drug trade.
The 2,400-foot long tunnel is lengthier than most of the 21 cross-border tunnels that have been discovered since authorities began keeping track after the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.
"It was like being in a cavern or a cave," said Michael Unzueta, customs special agent in charge in San Diego.
The tunnel had a pulley system on the Mexican side, which began near the Tijuana airport, and ended in a warehouse on the U.S. side, authorities said. Inside, it had a cement floor and lights mounted on one of the hard soil walls.
John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, said he suspected the tunnel was the work of Tijuana's Arellano-Felix drug smuggling syndicate or another well-known drug cartel. He said tougher enforcement aboveground had forced smugglers to dig below.
The tunnel's discovery prompted the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego to open a criminal investigation, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The tunnel exited into a large, two-story white cinderblock warehouse in an industrial San Diego neighborhood near the border.
A green sign over the door said V&F Distributors LLC. County records listed the building's owner as Helen Park of Long Beach. The phone rang unanswered Thursday at her home.
Mexican authorities found the entrance about 100 yards south of the border on Tuesday, and officers on the U.S. side found the exit Wednesday. Mexican officials allowed reporters and photographers, including an Associated Press photographer, into the tunnel late Wednesday.
Four tunnels have been discovered this month in the Tijuana-San Diego area, including a more primitive tunnel that was also found Wednesday when a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle struck a sinkhole.