Man smuggles cocaine between U.S. and Mexico through underwater tunnel

This is the exit from the tunnel from Mexico into California.

Story highlights

  • Man admits carrying drugs through underwater tunnel
  • Border Patrol Agents find him in canal near border

(CNN)There has been increasing talk among politicians recently about building a border fence between the United States and Mexico. But the fence that exists in California couldn't stop one man -- and some drugs -- from going under it.

A Honduran man put on a wetsuit and scuba gear, and smuggled 55 pounds of cocaine through an underwater tunnel between Mexico and the United States, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Evelio Padilla-Zepeda, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in San Diego to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and faces up to 20 years in prison.
    In April, Border Patrol Agents found Padilla-Zepeda, soaking wet and wearing a wetsuit, along the All-American Canal in Calexico, California. They also found 25 packages of cocaine that had been vacuum-sealed and gift-wrapped, scuba tanks and diving gear.
    The agents then found an underground tunnel that began in Mexicali, Mexico, went under the border and ended in the canal in California. The exit for the tunnel in California was partially submerged in the canal and hidden behind rocks.
    Padilla-Zepeda said in court that he planned to use the scuba gear to transport the cocaine underwater in the canal to another point. He had two rebreather tanks with him to help him stay hidden underwater; they prevent bubbles from a diver's breathing.
    "Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product -- even scuba diving in an underwater tunnel," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. "The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it, as we have done in this case."
    According to court documents, Padilla-Zepeda said he was hired for $7,000 to help transport three people across the canal. He said he was later told he would be transporting packages instead of people. He said he went along with the job because there was no other option.
    Padilla-Zepeda is scheduled to be sentenced in December.