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Arrest of Drug Smuggler Leads to Discovery of Major Underwater Tunnel Across U.S.-Mexico Border — See the Photos

"Drug smugglers will try anything to move their product."

Image source: KNTV-TV

CALEXICO, Calif. (AP) -- The arrest of a drug smuggler in scuba gear led to the discovery of a tunnel from Mexico that's partially underwater and ends in a canal.

Evelio Padilla pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in San Diego to one count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute.

Image source: KNSD-TV

Border Patrol agents said in court documents that they discovered a soaked Padilla in a wetsuit next to the All-American Canal, about 7 miles east of Calexico, California, on April 25. Near him, they found a breathing tank with a "rebreather" to prevent surface bubbles, and several vacuum-sealed and giftwrapped packages that held a total of 55 pounds of cocaine.

That led to the discovery of the 150-foot-long tunnel, which began at a house in Mexicali, Mexico, and ended under the water of the canal. The drugs were put on a trolley system on the dry Mexico side of the tunnel, and smugglers would use scuba gear to retrieve it from under the canal's water from an opening that is normally obscured by rocks.

This April 25, 2015 photo, from the U.S. Border Patrol and introduced as evidence in U.S. District Court, shows the exit canal from a tunnel from Mexicali, Mexico that Border Patrol agents said was used by Evelio Padilla, a Honduran national, to smuggle over 50 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. Padilla pleaded guilty Wednesday, Aug. 19, in federal court in San Diego to one count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. (U.S. Border Patrol via AP)

This April 25, 2015 photo, from the U.S. Border Patrol and introduced as evidence in U.S. District Court, shows a trolley in the Mexican side of a tunnel that Border Patrol agents said was used by Evelio Padilla. a Honduran national, to smuggle over 50 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. Padilla pleaded guilty Wednesday, Aug. 19, in federal court in San Diego to one count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. (U.S. Border Patrol via AP)

Image source: KNSD-TV

"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."

According to the criminal complaint against him, Padilla, a 28-year-old Honduran national who had been living in Mexicali, was told he would be helping to get people across the border, but after jumping the international boundary fence was told he would be smuggling drugs instead. Padilla said he had no other option.

Image source: KNSD-TV

Authorities have not said whether they have learned who built and operated the tunnel, or whether more arrests were expected.

Padilla faces a maximum of 20 years in prison at sentencing.

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