Pubdate: Wed, 17 Sep 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: A-3
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Richard Marosi

Mexico Under Siege


The Eight Men Arrested in the House Where the Sophisticated Tunnel
Began Include a Suspected L.A.-Area Gang Member.

Eight men arrested on suspicion of constructing a drug tunnel have
been formally charged with racketeering and smuggling, Mexican state
and federal authorities say.

The men, one of whom was identified as a suspected Los Angeles-area
gang member, were arrested this month inside a small house where the
well-constructed passageway began. The tunnel, equipped with
ventilation, electricity and a rail-and-cart system to ferry material
and dirt, stretched 150 yards, ending within feet of the California

Mexican authorities say the sophisticated design suggests that a major
drug cartel financed the project.

Drug trafficking in Mexicali is controlled by the Sinaloa-based cartel
led by Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, but authorities have yet to determine
whether the group was responsible.

The tunnel appeared destined for a quiet neighborhood in the Imperial
Valley city of Calexico. In recent years, organized-crime groups have
tried to build at least seven tunnels in the Calexico-Mexicali area,
taking advantage of flat terrain and dense cross-border

The tunnels, which can cost $1 million, are closely guarded secrets
that often enjoy protection by local police.

In this case, Baja California state preventive police raided the home
after neighbors reported suspicious late-night activity, Juan Miguel
Guillen, director of the force, said in a recent interview.

The suspects, most of whom came from distant Mexican states, told
authorities they were ordered to stay in the house and work
round-the-clock. One of the men had a tattoo from a Southern
California gang, Guillen said.

The men's only contact with outsiders was a weekly visit from a man
who brought food, supplies and their $500 weekly pay. The man wore a
mask to hide his identity, Guillen said.

The men are being held in a state prison near Mexicali.