Authorities Find Smuggling Tunnel Under Arizona KFC

Chris Jasurek
By Chris Jasurek
August 23, 2018US News

A routine traffic stop in San Luis, Arizona, led to a major drug seizure, which in turn led to the discovery of a cross-border drug tunnel.

Scott Brown, Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge in Phoenix, described the arrest, seizure, and the subsequent discovery of the tunnel at a press conference at Yuma Sector Border Patrol Headquarters. The press conference was posted on the Jennifer Blackwell News Facebook page.

This former KFC hides a drug-smuggling tunnel
This former KFC restaurant is the focus of a multiagency investigation after a drug-smuggling tunnel to Mexico turned up in its kitchen. the tunnel was found on Aug. 13, 2018. (Screenshot/Yuma Sector Border Patrol)

Officers from the San Luis, Arizona, police department stopped a pickup truck for traffic violations on Aug. 13. The pickup was also towing a trailer.

Drug-sniffing dogs alerted officers to search two tool boxes on the trailer. Inside the boxes were about 37o pounds of powerful and very dangerous drugs.

Officers recovered about 260 pounds of methamphetamine, 13 pounds of cocaine, 29 pounds of white heroin, 13 pounds of brown heroin, and 6.6 pounds of fentanyl—which is enough for about 3 million doses.

The street value of those drugs was about $1.2 million, Brown said.

“As a nation in the midst of an opioid crisis, obviously this is a very significant seizure.”Brown told the assembled reporters.

The tunnel drops 22 feet and stretches 590 feet into Mexico.
This tunnel drops 22 feet and stretches 590 feet into Mexico. It was a drug-trafficking tunnel found on Aug. 13, 2018. (Screenshot/Yuma Sector Border Patrol)

Drugs in the Kitchen of the Ex-KFC

The traffic stop took place in front of a building, which once housed a KFC fast-food restaurant, owned by the owner of the truck, Ivan Lopez, of Yuma, Arizona.

Brown explained that Lopez had been observed taking those drug-packed toolboxes from the empty KFC to his trailer.

When Homeland Security Investigations officers searched the restaurant on Aug. 14, they found one end of a cross-border tunnel in the kitchen. The tunnel opening was only eight inches in diameter. Brown said he assumed drugs were raised up on a rope and packed into tool boxes.

The tunnel dropped down 22 feet and stretched 590 feet under the border and into Mexico. The tunnel was about 5 feet high and 3 feet wide.

The tunnel is buttressed along its full length with 2x4s and plywood.
The tunnel is 590 feet long, 5 feet high, and 3 feet wide, and is buttressed along its full length with 2 by 4s and plywood. the tunnel was found on Aug. 13, 2018. (Screenshot/Yuma Sector Border Patrol)

Brown said that while it was hard to estimate, given that the entire length of the tunnel was shored up with plywood and 2 by 4s, the construction cost could have a couple of hundred thousand dollars. He also said that it appeared a professional engineer or miner had been involved in the construction.

When asked how long the tunnel had been in operation, Brown replied “I do not have a precise date when the tunnel was built. Every indication we have is that it was built in the last few months, probably around the start of the summer.”

He said that ultimately the tunnel was controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Mexican authorities, acting on information from the ICE attaché and the Border Patrol International Liaison Unit searched for the Mexican end of the tunnel and found it in a residence, accessed by a trap door under a bed. No arrests were made in Mexico.

When the investigation is complete the tunnel would be sealed and filled with cement, explained Chief Patrol Agent Yuma Sector US Border Patrol Anthony J. Porvaznik.

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