Elaborate Tunnel Revealed Beneath U.S./Canada Border
July 21, 2005
By KOMO Staff
SEATTLE - Federal agents have shut down a drug-smuggling tunnel built under the U.S.-Canadian border in northwestern Washington, the first such passageway found under the nation's northern border, federal officials said Thursday.
Five people were arrested in the case, U.S. Attorney John McKay told a news conference at this border town about 90 miles north of Seattle.
McKay said construction of the tunnel began about eight months ago and authorities had been monitoring it for six months. It was sealed shortly after it opened Wednesday.
Although numerous smuggling tunnels have been found on the U.S.-Mexican border, this was the first found from Canada, he said. It runs 360 feet from a quonset hut on the Canadian side and ends beneath the living room of a home on the on the U.S. side, 300 feet from the border.
Reinforced with lumber, concrete and iron rebar, the tunnel is roughly 4 feet wide and tall, and between 3 feet to 10 feet below ground. It was equipped with lights and ventilation, and burrows under a highway.
"They were smart enough to build a sophisticated tunnel, they weren't smart enough to not get caught," McKay said.
Arrested Wednesday were Francis Devandra Raj, 30; Timothy Woo, 34; and Johnathan Valenzuela, 27, all of Surrey, British Columbia. They were charged Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to import marijuana.
Raj owns the property where the tunnel was hidden beneath the quonset hut, authorities said. Woo was a fugitive in a 1999 marijuana case out of Seattle.
On July 16, two additional people were arrested in separate incidents for transporting marijuana that had come through the tunnel, said Greg Gassett, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent based in Seattle.
One was a Twin Falls, Idaho, woman who authorities say had 93 pounds of marijuana in her vehicle when she was stopped in Ellensburg. A Renton man pulled over by the Washington State Patrol in Enumclaw with 110 pounds of marijuana was also arrested.
Authorities are deciding on how to proceed with charges against the two, said McKay. Their names were not released.
Pat Fogarty, an inspector with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia, said Canadian Border Service Guards noticed suspicious activity at the hut in February and reported it to his team.
"They saw dirt going out and construction materials going in," Fogarty said. "They thought it was something we should check out, reported it to us and we went from there."
U.S. officials were alerted and began monitoring the tunnel.
"We were in there before it was completed. There was not a day they did anything that we weren't assessing them," Gassett said.
On July 2, agents entered the home to examine the tunnel. They later installed cameras and listening devices in the home to monitor activities. Raj, Woo and Valenzuela were observed carrying large bags from the house and into a sport-utility vehicle with Utah plates. The vehicle was then delivered to the woman who was later stopped in Ellensburg.