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By Sandra Dibble
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Eight suspects were in custody Tuesday in the Baja California capital of Mexicali, after state agents caught them digging a clandestine cross-border tunnel with its own elevator, lighting and ventilation systems.
The entrance to the 434-foot passageway was discovered Monday afternoon about a half-mile east of the Calexico border crossing in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Colonia Nueva. The tunnel leads from a white, wood-frame house about a block from the U.S. border fence, and comes to within about 130 feet of U.S. territory, according to Agustin Perez, a spokesman for the Baja California Secretariat of Public Safety.
Members of the Baja California State Preventive Police raided the residence after an armed man was spotted outside, Perez said. "There was certainly a connection to organized crime," he said. "The purpose was to smuggle either drugs or people or weapons."
Authorities said they did not know Tuesday which criminal organization was behind the tunnel's construction. At least 75 clandestine tunnels have been discovered along the U.S.-Mexico border since the 1990s, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The passageway is nearly 15 feet beneath the surface, Perez said, and measures 5 feet by 5 feet. The elevator was operated by hydraulic pulley, and large enough for three people, Perez said. Workers were installing rails along the tunnel floor, he said.
The eight suspects range in age from 27 to 52 and have been turned over to the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office, Perez said. "They said the person who paid them was hooded, and they never knew who their employer was," Perez said. The suspects told agents the tunnel was designed to reach a residence in Calexico.
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that U.S. authorities are cooperating with their Mexican counterparts. "We found no criminal records on those individuals in the United States," she said. "They were not under investigation."

Wire Service
 
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