A building that was once home to an Arizona fried chicken restaurant was found last week to contain what officials believe is a secret smuggling tunnel — stretching all the way to Mexico.
Details of the cross-border structure discovered underneath the former Kentucky Fried Chicken in San Luis, Arizona, were disclosed during a joint press conference held Wednesday by officials from Homeland Security Investigations, Yuma Sector Border Patrol and the Yuma County Sheriff's Department.
Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown said that an August 13 traffic stop conducted by the San Luis Police Department led to the discovery of both the tunnel as well as massive quantities of narcotics stored at the building. Cops pulled over suspect Ivan Lopez, who was eventually found to be traveling with two toolboxes full of drugs after a canine unit sniffed them out.
The toolboxes, according to Brown, contained massive amounts of “hard narcotics” within: 118 kilograms of methamphetamine, over six kilograms of cocaine, over three kilograms of fentanyl, over 13 kilograms of white heroin, and over six kilograms of brown heroin.
“I would particularly note that just the three kilograms of fentanyl translates to over three million dosage units,” Brown said. “As a nation in the grips of an opioid crisis, obviously this is a very significant seizure.”
Authorities obtained a warrant and on August 14 raided both Lopez's home and the abandoned KFC, which he owns, according to records. Lopez, a resident of Yuma, Arizona, had reportedly been spotted carrying the same drug-stuffed toolboxes from the building earlier in the day.
Lopez has a history of convictions on drunken-driving and money laundering charges, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, adding that he was initially pulled over for an “equipment violation.”
During the search, authorities discovered the cross-border tunnel’s entrance in the former KFC’s kitchen area. Brown noted that the entrance/exit of the tunnel on this side was only about eight inches in diameter, and therefore “not large enough for a person to pass through.”
The tunnel descended about 22 feet down, measuring roughly five feet tall and three feet wide. Its southern terminus sat underneath a bed inside a Mexican home just 590 feet from the U.S. border.
Given the narrowness of the opening on the U.S. side, officials said they believe that narcotics were brought in by pulling ropes.
Drug-smuggling tunnels are nothing new in the U.S. Two years ago, federal authorities found the longest such tunnel ever recorded, stretching some 2,600 feet from San Diego, California, to Mexico, according to a 2016 L.A. Times report. However, unlike the substances believed to be smuggled through the abandoned KFC, the San Diego tunnel was primarily used to transport “multi-ton quantities” of cocaine and marijuana, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said at the time.
[Photo Credit: Homeland Security Investigations]