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High-ranking Sinaloa cartel member linked to drug tunnels

Federal authorities have linked a high-ranking Mexican organized crime member to two of the largest drug tunnels ever discovered under the San Diego-Tijuana border, according to a 13-count indictment announced Wednesday that details a far-flung operation that allegedly moved tons of marijuana across the border.

Jose Sanchez-Villalobos, 49, is the highest-ranking member of the Sinaloa drug cartel ever charged in connection with the construction of underground tunnels, according to federal prosecutors in San Diego.

Sanchez-Villalobos, who was arrested in the Mexican state of Jalisco in January on Mexican money-laundering charges, is in extradition proceedings. The indictment by a federal grand jury in San Diego was handed down in February and unsealed Wednesday.

Sanchez-Villalobos allegedly managed the construction and operations of a 2,200-foot long tunnel found in November 2010, and another one discovered a year later in the same area of Otay Mesa, a warehouse district where numerous drug tunnels have been found over the years.

The tunnel discovered in 2011 featured an elevator and a rail and cart system. That investigation yielded 32 tons of marijuana, one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history.

According to prosecutors, Sanchez-Villalobos was a hands-on manager, requiring frequent updates on construction work, controlling the flow of drugs and charging other drug traffickers a fee to use the tunnels.

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-- Richard Marosi in San Diego

 
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