Since 1995 more than 90 illicit underground passageways have been discovered in various states of completion in the two-mile stretch of urban frontier that separates Nogales, Ariz., from its twin city on the Mexican side of the border. Twenty-two complete tunnels have been found in the past three years alone. The city has become infamous as the Tunnel Capital of the Southwest....
|The 10-inch-wide entrance to a smuggler’s tunnel uncovered in Arizona in August 2011 (AP)|
Bloomberg Business Week
Crime has been coming up out of the ground in Nogales for a while now. Since 1995 more than 90 illicit underground passageways have been discovered in various states of completion in the two-mile stretch of urban frontier that separates Arizona’s Nogales from its far larger twin in Sonora. Twenty-two complete tunnels have been found in the past three years alone. Streets have opened up beneath unwary pedestrians and subsided under heavy vehicles; the city has become infamous as the Tunnel Capital of the Southwest.
|When found the tunnels are filled with concrete|
|2500 LBS in this discovery|
On a searing afternoon in late June, Border Patrol Agent Kevin Hecht guides his rumbling Dodge pickup along the incline of West International Street and picks out the highlights of the tunnelers’ work. The blue house at number 438, where smugglers came up under the front porch and bundled the loads directly into a car parked outside; and the apartment building at 530, so popular that two tunnels intersected underground there, five years apart. “One was real fancy—all wood-lined, lighting, ventilation, power outlets. All hand-dug,” Hecht says. At the corner of West Street, he points down to asphalt quilted with squares of fresh concrete, where tunnels beneath the road have been located and filled in all the way to the border. “There are some hot spots they like,” he says. “They just won’t leave them alone.” The city’s repair crews have inscribed each patch with a date, so Hecht can keep track of when each tunnel was finally sealed. “There’s so many of them here, I can’t remember every little square,” he says. “I’m getting old.”
At 42, Hecht is a big man, 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, with thinning black hair sticking straight up from his scalp like stalks in a burned cornfield. Raised in Chicago, he has 17 years in the Border Patrol, all of it in Nogales—and much of it underground. “He’s the tunnel guru,” says Jack Zappone, one of Hecht’s former colleagues, now an HSI agent with the Tunnel Task Force. “Just about every tunnel that’s ever been found in Nogales, he’s been inside of it or crawled through. And he knows the drainage system like the back of his hand.”
|Tunnel found under the deck of a home-15 days later another found in a bedroom a few doors down|
|A 2010 Rand Report states the estimated profit of Mexican Cartel's Drug operation is 6.6B per year|
|The "Parking Meter Tunnel" found in 2011 the tunnel lead to the San Enrique Hotel|
The first drug-smuggling tunnel found beneath the border was discovered in May 1990, 100 miles west of Nogales, in Douglas, Ariz. It was 270 feet long, with its southern entrance concealed beneath a pool table at a house in Agua Prieta, Mexico, the favored cross-border drug transfer point for “Shorty” Guzman, infamous head of the Sinaloa cartel. When the spigot of a tap outside the house was turned, the table rose eight feet into the air on hydraulic rams, revealing a vaulted, concrete-lined tunnel strung with electric lights and equipped with a wheeled cart. The passageway emerged beneath the drainage grate of a truck-washing station in Douglas, built on land sold to Guzman’s lawyer by a local judge. Customs agents who examined the tunnel said that it looked like something out of a James Bond movie.
|Few tunnels are tall enough for agents to stand in|
|Border Patrol Agent Kevin Hecht is known as the tunnel guru, he is one of the few that enters small dirt tunnels|
In the 17 years since tunnels were first found in Nogales, only one of the senior cartel figures behind them has ever been brought to justice. In 2003, Shorty Guzman’s senior lieutenant Rigoberto Gaxiola Medina, aka Don Rigo, was arrested in a joint operation with Mexican authorities after wiretaps proved he’d ordered construction of a 985-foot tunnel beneath Nogales equipped with a rail system to move narcotics. In 2008 a Mexican judge sentenced him to 11 years in prison.