ICE finds drug smuggling tunnel connected to large raw sewage pipeline in Nogales
TUCSON — Homeland Security special agents uncovered on Tuesday an active drug tunnel inside a home located near the U.S.-Mexico border, the third tunnel found in the past three weeks in downtown Nogales.
Smugglers used the tunnel to transport hard drugs into Arizona by connecting to the large sewage pipeline that runs underneath the twin border cities of Ambos Nogales.
Agents seized over 211 pounds of meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl at the home. They also arrested two Mexican citizens as they executed a search warrant after a months-long investigation into the existence of the tunnel, according to a press release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Earlier in December, border officials found two unfinished tunnels to the west, near the DeConcini port of entry.
ICE said special agents with its Homeland Security Investigations division in Nogales received a tip earlier this year about the use of a tunnel to smuggle large quantities of hard drugs via the International Outfall Interceptor, a large underground pipeline that carries raw sewage from Nogales, Sonora to the wastewater treatment plant north of Nogales, Arizona.
After presenting evidence and obtaining a search warrant from a judge, special agents working with the Border Enforcement Security Task Force raided a home located on Morley Avenue in downtown Nogales on Tuesday at about 8:30 p.m.
Inside, investigators discovered the entrance to the drug tunnel from the home's kitchen. It was eight feet deep and ran for 82 feet to its connection with the IOI pipeline.
"The reinforced passageway features a sophisticated ventilation system equipped with tubing reinforced by several 2 x 4’s and beams allowing for crawlspace. Special agents estimate the tunnel has been in existence for a few months due to the advanced construction and material used to excavate," ICE said in the statement.
Agents arrested two men during the search. They encountered Jovany Robledo-Delgado, 33, when they entered the house. They then found Jesus Martinez-Salgado, 24, inside the tunnel as he made his way to the exit connecting to the pipeline, according the criminal complaint filed in Tucson federal court.
Smuggler paid $3,000 per trip
The complaint claims Robledo-Delgado said he built the tunnel to smuggle drugs from Mexico into Arizona, but he told agents he believed the packages contained only marijuana.
Robledo-Delgado also said he was paid $200 to build the tunnel, and $3,000 "per smuggling event after the tunnel was completed," court records show. Although it's unclear how many smuggling events took place.
Martinez-Salgado told agents he was paid $500 to smuggle the drugs through the tunnel, but that "he was forced to work in the subterranean tunnel by unknown individuals in Mexico in order to pay off a debt he owed to the drug smuggling organization," the complaint read.
The drugs seized totaled nearly 200 pounds of meth, two pounds of white heroin, three pounds of cocaine and more than six-and-a-half pounds of fentanyl. Agents also seized a vehicle at the home.
Both Robledo-Delgado and Martinez-Salgado face four charges each for drug possession and conspiracy to distribute hard narcotics. They had their first appearance in court on Wednesday. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Homeland Security Investigations is the investigative branch of ICE tasked with going after transnational smuggling and trafficking groups.
Support local journalism.Subscribe to azcentral.com today.