Drug Tunnellers Get 9 Years In Us Prison

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DRUG TUNNELLERS GET 9 YEARS IN US PRISON
by Dan Ferguson,

The three Surrey men who dug a drug smuggling tunnel beneath the Canada-U.S. border have been sentenced to nine years in jail in the U.S.

Francis Devandra Raj, 30, Timothy Woo, 43, and Johnathan Valenzuela, 27, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenou in Seattle Friday morning.

"This is not a good way to make money," Judge Coughenou said, after observing he had the impression Canadians tend to view marijuana-related crimes in a less serious light than Americans.

Their lawyers said the trio are hoping to serve their sentences in a Canadian jail.

The Surrey men were arrested by American authorities as they emerged from the tunnel on the U.S. side of the border in July 2005 carrying 200 pounds of B.C. bud.

The tunnel was dug by hand over eight months and stretched more than 350 feet underneath 0 Avenue from a Quonset hut on the Canadian side to a farmhouse in Lynden, Washington.

The tunnel ceiling and walls were braced with wood planks. It was also ventilated and wired for electric lights and a sump pump to remove water.

Users of the tunnel would be charged $500 a pound to ship pot, or ecstasy, into the U.S. and the tunnel operators said they could move 300 pounds ( 138 kg ) at a time.

Raj, Woo and Valenzuela apologized to the court, the U.S. and their families at the sentencing hearing.

Raj said the tunnel was not meant to be a "long-term thing."

Woo expressed regrets to the "the people of America" and his relatives, and Valenzuela said he was a drug addict who has benefited from his incarceration.

Investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA ) are still looking for the money behind the tunnel, because Raj, the owner of the Canadian property, did not appear to have the resources to fund the purchase and construction on his own.

Assistant United States District Attorney Jill Otake said rumours of the tunnel, the first of its kind under the B.C.-Washington State border, had created "something of an excitement" among Canadian drug dealers.

"The conspiracy isn't so much what they did as what they intended," Otake said, because the tunnel would have been used to funnel untold amounts of illegal drugs into the U.S.

It was revealed in court that the conspirators were considering "flipping" the tunnel once it was in operation by selling it to other criminals as a turnkey operation for several million dollars.

After the bust, Langley Township sealed the Canadian side of the tunnel with cement and foam at a cost of $35,000. The Township has since recovered those costs through the sale of the Aldergrove acreage, under federal proceeds of crime legislation.
 

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