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Cops Found an Underground Weed-Smuggling Tunnel Under This Mexican Restaurant

It turns out that El Sarape’s most top-secret recipe was a hole in the floor through which they smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana to a house on the other side of the border in Calexico.
March 26, 2016, 5:00pm

Sometimes the best Mexican restaurants are out of the way hole-in-the-walls, where the journey is rewarded with unbelievable tamales or a secret family tortilla recipe. When you do find such a place, you often keep the secret closely guarded so that you don't blow the spot up. Nothing kills the vibe like a line out the door.

One Mexican restaurant in Mexicali, El Sarape, sort of fits the bill, but for all the wrong reasons. They recently did, in fact, have their spot blown up: Though the restaurant has a "mariachi band at the ready" and a "menu that will simply delight carnivores," according to Lonely Planet, it turns out that El Sarape's most top secret recipe was a hole in the floor through which they smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana to a house on the other side of the border in Calexico. Unfortunately for El Sarape, the line out the door on Wednesday was a bunch of cops.

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KTLA reports that authorities busted a cross-border drug smuggling operation on Wednesday in Calexico, California, seizing 1,532 pounds of weed valued at nearly $6 million and arresting four people. The four were charged with drug trafficking, money laundering, and "tunnel-related offenses," which sounds like a pretty broad set of crimes.

The tunnel— which travelled from the restaurant on the Mexico side of the border 415 yards north to a suburban home in Calexico—was rather unusual. Due to the hard ground in the area, tunnels aren't typically dug in Calexico; the one police uncovered on Wednesday was the first tunnel discovered in the area in a decade. Typically, drug smuggling tunnels are found about 125 miles to the west near San Diego, where softer ground and thousands of warehouses on both sides of the border let drug traffickers slip by unnoticed.

Photo via Flickr user Marius Arnesen

A tunnel, through which one smuggles things. Photo via Flickr user Marius Arnesen

Even more unusually, in a first-of-its-kind operation, the tunnel was found in a suburban home that was built specifically as the endpoint of the tunnel. People involved with the drug smuggling operation bought a parcel of land in a suburban neighborhood for $240,000 and then spent $86,000 on the home, advising contractors to leave a hole in the foundation for a floor safe.

That 3-foot-diameter hole became the endpoint of a tunnel outfitted with electricity, lighting and a rail system that carted tons of weed into the US. The goods were then transported to a series of other houses in surrounding areas, limiting the number of people who knew about the tunnel's endpoint.

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People nearby were shocked that such an operation could be ongoing in a suburban neighborhood where unusual activity would be easy to spot.

"This is a peaceful neighborhood. You just don't hear about stuff like this here," Juan Urrea, who lived a block away, told KTLA. "Crazy. Just crazy."

But authorities weren't surprised, and issued a warning to any would-be drug traffickers.

"For the builders, the financiers and the operators of these sophisticated tunnels, there is no light at the end of the tunnel," US Attorney Laura Duffy of Southern California said in a statement, hitting smugglers with a mean burn. "We will seize your drugs and your tunnel before you even have a chance to use it."

There's no word on what's going to happen at El Sarape, but it's likely that those affiliated with the restaurant will be in need of a stiff drink. Fortunately, Lonely Planet says that the restaurant offers "margaritas that, though small, pack a cool and refreshing ice-cream headache," whatever that means.