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Story highlights

Smugglers allegedly bought U.S. property for the sole purpose of hiding a drug tunnel, feds say

Smugglers allegedly built a house with a hole in living room that led to tunnel

The drug tunnel ran 415 yards between Calexico, California and a restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico

(CNN) —  

For the first time on the border, drug traffickers allegedly bought U.S. property for the sole purpose of building a house to conceal the end of a 415-yard smuggling tunnel from Mexico, authorities said Wednesday.

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Four people were arrested this week in connection with a raid on the tunnel underneath a three-bedroom house in Calexico, California, that sits about 300 yards north of the international line, authorities said.

The tunnel entrance was inside a restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities confiscated 1,532 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of nearly $6 million.

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“For the builders, the financiers and the operators of these sophisticated tunnels, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We will seize your drugs and your tunnel before you even have a chance to use it,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy of Southern California said in a statement.

Joel Duarte Medina and Manuel Gallegos Jiminez were arrested in Calexico on Wednesday, and Marcia Manuela Duarte-Medina and her mother, Eva Duarte De Medina, were arrested in Arizona on Tuesday. They were charged with various drug trafficking, money laundering and tunnel-related offenses, authorities said.

The mother and daughter allegedly purchased the land under which the tunnel was later built, authorities said. The defendants and their attorneys couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

A land known as too hard for digging

The case is also unusual because it’s the first highly sophisticated tunnel discovered in Calexico in a decade, authorities said.

Tunnels have been typically discovered closer to the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego, about 125 miles west of Calexico, where the ground is softer and where thousands of warehouses on both sides of the border provide camouflage for smugglers.

Federal agents photograph tunnel exit inside a house in Calexico, California.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforement
Federal agents photograph tunnel exit inside a house in Calexico, California.

Calexico is less desirable for tunnels because the soil is denser and more difficult to break, and the town’s residential character makes it difficult to conceal tunneling activity, authorities said.

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The beige stucco house, the newest on the block, sits in a community of single-family homes.

The tunnel, in effect, passes underneath First Street and Second Street and then the 14-foot metal border fence.

Resident Juan Urrea lives one block from the house concealing the tunnel and expressed shock Wednesday.

“This is a peaceful neighborhood. You just don’t hear about stuff like this here,” Urrea said, shaking his head. “Crazy. Just crazy.”

Another neighbor, Yolanda Sanchez, who lives two doors away, said she thought the new house would help property values.