Smuggler uses scuba equipment, underwater tunnel to bring 55 pounds of cocaine across U.S. border

Smuggler attempts to scuba dive across border with 55 pounds of cocaine
Scuba equipment used by Padilla-Zepeda to bring the cocaine into America. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
We’ve already seen Mexican drug dealers attempt to smuggle 20 pounds of crystal meth over the U.S. border in a hollowed out surfboard. Now, another intrepid smuggler has apparently tried to take his operation a bit below the surface by attempting to transport 55 pounds of cocaine across the U.S. border in an underwater tunnel.

Evelio Padilla-Zepeda, a 28-year-old Honduran national, plead guilty Wednesday to attempting to smuggle drugs into the U.S. through the All-American Canal in southeastern California while wearing a wetsuit and scuba gear. He admitted that he entered the the United States via a tunnel that began on the Mexican side of the border and opened at a spot on the south bank of the All-American Canal just east of Calexico, California.

The tunnel that he transported the drugs through was roughly 50 yards long and included a trolley system. While the tunnel started at a dry opening under a house in Mexicali, Mexico, the opening in the All-American Canal was underwater, hence the need for diving gear.

Wearing oxygen tanks and a rebreather to prevent surface bubbles, Padilla-Zepeda had hoped to float down the canal for a little over a mile carrying his airtight cocaine packages in order to avoid detection from Border Patrol agents, according to prosecutors.

Instead, he was spotted by agents using remote video surveillance on April 25.

“Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product — even scuba diving in an underwater tunnel,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement regarding Padilla-Zepeda’s arrest. “The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it.”

Padilla-Zepeda, who is a resident of Mexicali, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 7 in a San Deigo federal court. The drugs he was carrying had an approximate street value of $1,774,400.

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