By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have shut down a secret underground tunnel equipped with electricity, ventilation and a rail system for smuggling drugs between a San Diego industrial park and Tijuana, Mexico, officials said on Thursday.
Border control and drug enforcement agents seized more than 17,000 pounds (7,700 kilograms) of marijuana and 325 pounds (147 kg) of cocaine from the tunnel, a rented warehouse where the passageway ended on the U.S. side and arrested three men arrested in a night raid on Wednesday.
The bust marked the first time cocaine has been found in connection with more than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels that have been uncovered since 2008 along the Southwest border between the United States and Mexico, officials said.
Tunnels discovered earlier were used mainly for marijuana, which because of its bulk is harder to smuggle inside cars and trucks, said William Sherman, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge in San Diego.
The tunnel, which was shut down on Wednesday, was built with one access point in a warehouse in the Otay Mesa industrial park of San Diego and another in Tijuana, Mexico, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy described the latest passageway as a "super tunnel," saying it was equipped with an electronic rail system, hydraulic doors and a ventilation system.
The Sinaloa drug cartel is believed to have built and operated the tunnel, which ran 1,760 feet from Mexico to the United States.
"The tunnels take hundreds of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars to complete," Sherman said.
U.S. prosecutors filed charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana against the three men arrested in connection with the tunnel. If convicted, each faces a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
Ironically, the entrance to the warehouse at the terminus of the tunnel is two doors down from the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials declined to speak to the media about the warehouse.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Christopher Wilson)
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