Drug Tunnel Conspirator Gets 10 Years

(AP file photo/Andrew Selsky)

(CN) — A boss of a quarter-mile-long drug tunnel under the California border was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle more than a ton of marijuana into the United States, but legalized marijuana appears to be reducing violence on the border.

Manuel Gallegos Jimenez, 48, of Acapulco, admitted he conspired to distribute marijuana through a tunnel that began in El Serape restaurant in Mexicali, Baja California Norte, and ended in the living room of a house on Third Street in Calexico, California, about 300 yards north of the border.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego said it was the first time drug traffickers were known to have bought property and constructed a house for the sole purpose of concealing the exit of a drug tunnel in Southern California.

The drug gang bought the property for $240,000 in April 2015 and then built the tunnel “under the watchful eyes of law enforcement officers,” according to the U.S. attorney’s statement.

U.S. federal agents watched the house be built, used court-aut1horized wiretaps and traced the smuggling of about 3,000 lbs. of marijuana, beginning in March 2016. All of the drugs were seized. From the Third Street house, the drugs were taken to a warehouse on Campillo Street in Calexico for their (interrupted) journey north.

Two other men have been sentenced for their roles, and two await sentencing.

Joel Duarte Medina, 43, of Mexico, is serving 5 years in federal prison, and Eva Medina de Duarte, 74, of Tucson was sentenced to 595 days.

Awaiting sentencing are Kenneth Wayne Olmos, 33, of Tucson and Bertha Lidia Esquivel, 53, of Rialto, California.

Gallegos Jimenez faced up to life in prison for his crime.

Legalized medical marijuana in the United States has reduced violent crime in U.S. border states by 13 percent, the UK-based Economic Journal reported in November 2017, but most marijuana consumed in the United States still comes from Mexico.

“Whenever there is a medical marijuana law we observe that crime at the border decreases because suddenly there is a lot less smuggling and a lot less violence associated with that,” one of the study’s authors, Evelina Gavrilova, told The Economist newspaper in January.

The Economic Journal report, “Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime,” studied the FBI’s annual uniforms crime reports and other homicide records from 1994 to 2012.

Researchers found, among other things, the violent crime was reduced by 15 percent in California after that state legalized medical marijuana, and violent crime in Arizona sank by 7 percent. Robbery sank by 19 percent in legalized states, and drug-related homicides fell by 41 percent.

Drug wars in Mexico, meanwhile, continue claiming thousands of lives and the level of violence shows no sign of abating. Official Mexican government statistics report 246,000 homicides in Mexico since 2007, including 29,168 in 2017. Experts believe the official statistics undercount the violence. For instance, more than 34,000 suspected homicides are still classified as missing persons.

Violence has increased tremendously since President Felipe Calderon ordered the Mexican Army into the drug wars in 2006. Most observers say that merely made the army one more player in the drug wars, along with local, state and federal police and the drug cartels.

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