US federal authorities have discovered a drug smuggling tunnel between a home in Mexico and a former KFC restaurant in Arizona.
Police began trailing the owner of the building, Ivan Lopez, and arrested him this month after finding several packages of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl in the back of his truck.
The arrest led to a search of his home and the old restaurant, where agents found a hidden tunnel leading to a house in Mexico. It was large enough for people to freely walk through.
“Tunnels are a time consuming venture but [their incidence] has definitely increased since the border security measures have ramped up,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge, for the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division.
“One of the things that tunnelling does tell us, is that as we increase infrastructure, resources, patrol – that’s forcing them to go to more costly routes into the US.”
Mr Brown said a functioning tunnel can cost traffickers hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.
The authorities do not know how long the underground route leading to the San Luis KFC had been in use, but Mr Lopez only bought the property in April.
According to court documents, the government has accused Mr Lopez of being a cartel member. Arrested on August 13, he is being held in federal detention without bond because he is considered a flight risk.
The use of tunnels for drug trafficking has been a major issue on the US-Mexico border for decades. Opponents of US president Donald Trump’s proposed border wall argue smugglers will circumvent it by continuing to dig tunnels.
Nearly 200 cross border tunnels have been discovered since 1990. In 2016, authorities found a tunnel running almost half a mile between Otay Mesa, in California, and Tijuana, Mexico.
The HSI has a tunnel task force and the Customs and Border Protection Agency has a tunnel detection and technology programme.