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Massive drug tunnel: 481-ft Nogales tunnel largest ever found

In what is hailed as the largest drug tunnel in the Nogales narcotics trafficking network, a massive Nogales narcotics tunnel was shut down Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Inside the largest of Nogales drug tunnels, agents found marijuana and heroin -- citing a Feb. 14 USA Today report on the latest Mexican drug cartel news.

An investigator combs through a drug tunnel found in a wherehouse on November 30, 2011 in Otay Mesa, California
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Nogales is known as hub for massive drug smuggling between the U.S.-Mexican borders. Over the last two decades, Border Patrol agents have discovered about 100 such drug tunnels in that city alone. However, this latest discovery tops them all in terms of length.

The massive drug tunnel in Nogales spanned between two private residences in Arizona and Sonora. The 481 foot underground tunnel compares to the length of an NFL football field plus 60 yards. Moreover, it had an elaborate network of wires for power, wooden structures for support, and fans throughout for ventilation. Past tunnels were built with complex rail systems for transporting narcotics between points.

In the drug bust, ICE agents confiscated 636 pounds of marijuana (46 pounds in the Nogales drug tunnel and another 590 pounds from a vehicle seen leaving the location) and half a pound of heroin.

All told, three suspects were arrested -- one American from Nogales, AZ and two Mexican residents -- and charged with drug felonies.

On how the Nogales tunnel was found: Reportedly, investigators received a tip that one or both of the homes were used as a cover for the tunnel.

The location was placed under surveillance for a short period until agents obtained enough information to move in and make arrests.

If a drug-trafficking organization can establish a well-manufactured tunnel, the likelihood of a law-enforcement encounter is somewhat slim. You don't run the risk of exposing your dope above ground, whether it's human backpackers or smuggling through the port or over the fence. It's completely concealed from start to finish," said Eric Balliet, assistant special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Nogales.

According to Balliet, members of Mexican drug cartels are resorting to drug tunnels because recent moves by states and the federal government to tighten security at the borders.

As one official said, the discovery of the massive drug tunnel proves that drug traffickers will go through any measure in order to profit from the illicit narcotics trade.

This story is developing.


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