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Man charged with trafficking $30M in drugs via tunnel from Mexico

Drug tunnel found between Jacumba, California and Jacume, Baja California, Mexico in Sept. 2018. (US Customs and Border Protection/Released)

Federal authorities have charged a man known to have lived in Chula Vista with trafficking millions of dollars in illegal drugs through a tunnel that stretched from Mexico to a warehouse in Otay Mesa.

Rogelio Flores Guzman, 54, a Mexican national with legal residency in the U.S., was charged Friday with trafficking in fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

Flores, who also was known to have lived in Las Vegas and Victorville, was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday as he was boarding a plane to Guadalajara, Mexico. He was arraigned Friday afternoon in federal court via live video because of COVID-19 precautions.

The judge ordered him detained without bond after the government argued he was a flight risk.

“Cross-border tunnels always spark fascination, but in reality they are a very dangerous means for major drug dealers to move large quantities of narcotics with impunity until we intervene,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer.

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On March 20, federal agents with a search warrant discovered the exit point of an underground transnational tunnel in a commercial warehouse occupied by Big Brands Warehouse Sales Corporation on Otay Center Drive, just northwest of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

The tunnel stretched for more than 2,000 feet to a warehouse in Tijuana, with an average depth of 31 feet and a width of about 3 feet through most of the passageway.

Agents estimate the tunnel has been in existence for several months due to the advanced construction in several portions of the passageway, which included reinforced walls, ventilation, lighting and an underground rail system.

Agents found about 575 packages inside the tunnel. Field test found presumptively positive results for several controlled substances.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, items found in the tunnel included 394 packages containing 585 kilograms of cocaine, 133 packages containing 1,355 kilograms of marijuana,

40 packages containing 39.12 kilograms of methamphetamine, seven packages containing 7.74 kilograms of heroin and one package containing 1.1 kilograms of fentanyl.

The large seizure of mixed drugs represents the first time in San Diego’s history where five different types of drugs were found inside a tunnel. The total street value of the drugs seized from the tunnel is estimated at $29.6 million.

Cardell T. Morant, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said the arrest reflected law enforcement’s commitment to continuing to curb the flow of illicit narcotics, even during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the complaint, federal agents conducting surveillance had seen Flores frequently come and go from the Otay Mesa warehouse over the course of several months.

On March 18, agents conducting surveillance saw Flores leave alone in a medium-sized truck that had a separate cargo area that was only accessible from the back.

As agents followed, Flores reportedly started to drive in a way that made agents believe he was aware that he was being tracked.

He pulled over at one point, parked in a no-parking zone, and briskly walked away from the truck, according to authorities.

Agents approached the parked truck and, through a gap in the back door of the cargo compartment, were able to see human fingers, indicating that there were several people located in the cargo compartment.

Agents located 10 people who later self-identified as Mexican nationals who did not legally enter the United States. Flores was released pending further investigation.

On April 9, agents contacted Flores at Los Angeles International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Guadalajara.

The complaint said that during this contact, he admitted participating in the tunnel construction, controlling access to the tunnel and personally transporting drugs through the tunnel.

He was charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

The discovery of the tunnel resulted from an ongoing investigation by members on the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which include Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune