A soaking wet Evelio Padilla leads agents to a new underwater tunnel used to smuggle drugs into the United States

By Maria Coder
Updated August 20, 2015 04:40 PM
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Credit: U.S. Border Patrol/AP

The arrest of a drug smuggler in a wetsuit and scuba gear enabled law enforcement to discover an underwater tunnel used to transport drugs to California, according to an Associated Press report.

Evelio Padilla, 28, originally from Honduras, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to one count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute.

Court papers showed that border patrol agents found Padilla soaked in a wetsuit next to the All-American Canal, about 7 miles east of Calexico, California, on April 25. They also found a breathing tank with a “rebreather” – a device to prevent surface bubbles – and several vacuum-sealed and gift-wrapped packages holding 55 pounds of cocaine.

According to a criminal complaint, Padilla said he thought he’d be helping people cross the U.S. border but once he arrived in Mexico, he learned he’d be trafficking drugs instead – he says he had no other option. Padilla will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in December, according to prosecutors, KFMB reports.

His arrest led agents to find a 150-foot-long, partially submerged, tunnel, which begins at a house in Mexicali, Mexico, and ends under the water of the California canal.

It appears the drugs were shuffled along a trolley system, starting on the dry Mexico side. Smugglers in wetsuits would retrieve the drugs from an opening, usually concealed by rocks.

“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. “The ingenuity of the smugglers is matched only by our determination to thwart it.”

Authorities have not said if they know who built the tunnel or whether more arrests are expected.

Since 2001, U.S. officials have found more than 100 tunnels along the Mexican border, according to TIME Magazine.

Just last year, Mexican marines and American officers raided the Culiac n, Mexico, home of the ex-wife of Joaqu n Guzm n Loera, the Mexican drug kingpin known as “El Chapo,” only to find he’d fled using a secret door under a bathtub, which led to a network of a network of tunnels and sewer canals connecting several houses, The New York Times reported. While Guzm n was eventually caught in early 2014, he escaped from prison last month using a tunnel in a shower in his cell.

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