Watch CBSN Live

San Diego-Tijuana Drug Tunnel: 30 Ton Marijuana Bust a Near-Record Haul, Says DEA

20 Tons of Marijuana Found in Border Drug Tunnel
John Morton (L) inspects bundle of marijuana (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) Lenny Ignelzi

SAN DIEGO (CBS/KFMB/AP) Federal authorities in San Diego and their Mexican counterparts have confiscated nearly 30 tons of marijuana from an underground tunnel connecting warehouses on both sides of the border, in what officials say is one of the largest pot busts in U.S. history.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton said the bricks of marijuana were packaged for sale, and would have been worth $20 million if sold on the streets of San Diego.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the lightning-speed, 12-hour operation started Tuesday night when U.S. authorities watching a warehouse followed a tractor-trailer as it left the building, according to CBS affiliate KFMB.

ICE agents called in the California Highway Patrol, whose officers stopped the rig near Temecula, California, about 60 miles away. Authorities say they found 10 tons of marijuana inside the tractor-trailer. The driver, a U.S. citizen, and his Mexican wife, were arrested and will be arraigned in San Diego on Thursday.

KFMB reports authorities quickly obtained a federal search warrant to enter the warehouse, where they discovered 10 to 15 more tons of marijuana, Morton said.

They also found the opening to the tunnel, which ran the length of six football fields under the border and ended at a warehouse in Mexico, Morton said. The tunnel had lighting, ventilation and a rail system.

The clandestine passageway was too low to stand up in and was believed to be in operation for only a brief time, Morton said.

"This is obviously the work of a cartel," said Morton, who held a news conference outside the warehouse in an industrial park near the Otay Mesa truck crossing, across the border from Tijuana.

Officials said the pot seizure was the largest ever in California and was believed to be the second-largest in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized 33 tons of marijuana in Oregon in 2008, DEA special agent Ralph W. Partridge said.