Drug tunnel found under Canada border
Five arrests made after agents monitored construction
From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents have closed down the first known smuggling tunnel under the U.S.-Canada border and arrested on drug charges the three Canadians who allegedly built it, law enforcement authorities said Thursday.
The three men from Surrey, British Columbia, were taken into custody Wednesday night as they emerged on the U.S. side of the tunnel they had built during the past year, according to Drug Enforcement Administration officials.
Two U.S. citizens also were arrested for transporting marijuana authorities said was taken through the tunnel.
A Twin Falls, Idaho, woman was arrested Saturday en route from Seattle, Washington, to Twin Falls with 93 pounds of marijuana in a car she had picked up at a Seattle-area shopping mall, authorities said.
Then on Monday, a Washington, man was arrested while driving on Interstate 90 toward an unknown destination with 110 pounds of marijuana in a car he also had picked up in Seattle, authorities said.
Both people are expected to be prosecuted federally, a DEA spokesman said.
The DEA said the newly completed tunnel is the first discovered on the northern border. Several tunnels have been discovered along the Mexico border.
The 360-foot tunnel runs from under a Quonset hut on the Canadian side of the border to the living room of a house in Lynden, Washington, authorities said. The town is about 90 miles north of Seattle.
After they were tipped about the tunnel while it was under construction early this year, U.S. and Canadian agents jointly monitored the project until it was completed in early July.
"We saw lumber going in and soil coming out. Combined with the location of the building and its proximity to the border, it wasn't difficult to come to the conclusion that likely a tunnel was being constructed," said Kim Scoville, director of Canada's Border Services Agency.
Armed with a delayed notification search warrant, agents entered the U.S. house and planted eavesdropping devices and cameras to watch the concluding months of the tunnel project.
Authorities said the tunnel -- reinforced by wooden beams and steel bars -- is between 3 feet (1 meter) and 10 feet deep and about 360 feet long.
Officials said one of the defendants owned the British Columbia land where the tunnel began, and all of the defendants had cared for the property on the U.S. side to make it appear occupied.
"The presence of a tunnel on our northern border threatens the security of countries, whether it is used to smuggle drugs, contraband or even terrorists," said U.S. Attorney John McKay.
The owner of the house on the U.S. side of the border has not been arrested, one official said.
"We obviously have a great deal of interest in that individual, and our investigation is ongoing," said the official.
"The tunnel was ambitious, sophisticated and an example of the lengths to which individuals and criminal organizations will go to for illegal profits," said Canadian Inspector Pat Fogarty.
The Canadian defendants were identified as Francis Devadra Raj, 30; Timothy Woo, 34; and Johnathan Valenzuela, 27, all of Surrey.
They were scheduled to appear Thursday in federal court in Seattle to face charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to import marijuana, authorities said.
The officials said they expected the three to be prosecuted in the United States rather than Canada because no illegal drugs were transported from the U.S. side of the border.
The tunnel will be destroyed, officials said.
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