Pubdate: Wed, 17 Sep 2008 Source: Los Angeles Times (CA) Page: A-3 Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times Contact: http://drugsense.org/url/bc7El3Yo Website: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/248 Author: Richard Marosi Mexico Under Siege MEXICO BORDER TUNNEL SUSPECTS CHARGED 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 border. 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 neighborhoods. 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.