Tunnel to U.S. uncovered in Aldergrove
A year of underground labour ends with the arrest of three by U.S. cops
Ethan Baron CanWest News Service Friday, July 22, 2005
VANCOUVER -- Three Surrey men toiled 10 hours a day, six days a week for more than a year, using hand shovels to dig a cross-border drug-smuggling tunnel that raises serious international security concerns including terrorism, authorities allege.
The 110-metre tunnel, a stone's throw from the Aldergrove border crossing, is the first ever discovered beneath the Canada-U.S. border, and as sophisticated as some of the 34 such passageways found beneath the Mexico-U.S. border.
"The security implications for both Canada and the United States are immense," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Leigh Winchell.
"That tunnel could be used to smuggle aliens into the U.S. It could be used to smuggle equipment into the U.S. for those who could do harm to the United States."
Francis Raj, 30, Timothy Woo, 34, and Jonathan Valenzuela, 27, were charged Thursday in U.S. court with conspiracy to smuggle and distribute marijuana, an offence carrying a minimum 10-year sentence.
"This tunnel investigation clearly showed the effort by this international drug-trafficking organization to smuggle their poison into the United States for distribution," said U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency special agent Rod Benson.
Investigators have identified leaders of the drug-trafficking organization in the U.S. and Canada, and located drug distribution centres in the U.S., he said.
Officials would not reveal details of the organization.
Raj, who bought the Aldergrove property in March 2003, has a connection to a recent series of violent Lower Mainland kidnappings involving Indo-Canadian suspects.
Woo had a U.S. warrant for his arrest, because police believed he had operated as a courier for a U.S. pot-smuggling group.
All three suspects are "well-known" to police in B.C., said Insp. Pat Fogarty of the Organized Crime Agency of B.C.
"Police have tracked these individuals over the years," Fogarty said.
"The very nature of their activities, we would consider that at the level of organized crime."
The three men launched their excavation project in an Aldergrove Quonset hut in March or April last year, Fogarty said.
They allegedly shovelled dirt into a cart, winched the cart up inside the hut and dumped the soil into a trailer for ferrying to a landfill every two days.
"They put together a very efficient system," said Fogarty, who estimated construction costs at $1 million.
The walls and ceiling of the 1.2-metre-wide, 1.2-metre-tall tunnel were reinforced with about 1,000 two by six boards. It ran beneath two roads that parallel the border at a depth of one to three metres.
It was the lumber going in and the dirt coming out that tipped off Canadian border agents, originally led to the scene during a cocaine-smuggling investigation.
"It wasn't too difficult to come to the conclusion that it was likely a tunnel was being constructed," said Kim Scoville, a director of the Canada Border Services Agency.
Agents and police put the site under constant watch and let the diggers complete the tunnel in the living room of an unoccupied two-storey, wood-sided home in Lynden, Wash.
On July 2, search warrants on both sides of the border let agents check out the passageway and plant hidden cameras when the builders were away.
In the past week, two shipments of marijuana totalling 90 kilograms were taken through the tunnel and handed off to people who were arrested in Washington -- without the knowledge of the tunnel-builders.
Once they had sufficient evidence of an international smuggling conspiracy, U.S. agents pounced on the suspected tunnelers Wednesday.
Authorities are nearly certain no other drugs or contraband were taken through the tunnel, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Whalley.
No information suggests other tunnels exist under Canada's border with the U.S., Fogarty said. "We don't know if there are any."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005
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07-22-2005, 07:42 AM #1
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07-22-2005, 11:02 AM #2
They do this in Mexico too
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