Tunnel Beneath KFC Connects Drug Smugglers in Arizona, Mexico

By Paul Gaita 08/28/18

The county sheriff's department called the discovery a "heavy blow to that transnational criminal organization that built this tunnel."

Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant

A routine stop for an equipment violation led law enforcement in Arizona to an operation that numerous media outlets compared to the AMC series Breaking Bad, with a near-600-foot tunnel that connected a former fast food restaurant to a private home in Mexico for the purposes of trafficking narcotics.

Police pulled over Jesus Ivan Lopez Garcia on August 13 after he was observed removing several containers from an abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise located one mile from the U.S.-Mexico border; a search of the vehicle turned up more than 200 packages of various narcotics, including 6.8 pounds of fentanyl.

This led to a search of the restaurant, where a tunnel traversed the border to a home in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. The county sheriff's department described the discovery as a "heavy blow to that transnational criminal organization that built this tunnel."

According to CNN, court documents showed that Lopez Garcia had purchased the former KFC location in San Luis, Arizona in April 2018. The structure was described as "vacant in recent years," which raised the suspicion of police when Lopez Garcia was seen taking the containers, including a tool box from the former restaurant and loading them into a trailer attached to a pickup truck.

Officers then pulled him over for what was described as an unspecified equipment violation, and during the traffic stop, a K-9 officer alerted authorities to suspected drugs in the two containers.

A search of the containers yielded more than 261 pounds of methamphetamine, 14 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of white heroin, 13.7 pounds of brown heroin and 6.8 pounds of fentanyl.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown told a CNN affiliate station in Arizona that the fentanyl "translates to over three million dosage units." Authorities gave the total price of the drugs at more than $1 million.

After obtaining a warrant, HSI conducted a search of the KFC location on August 14 and found an eight-inch hole with a depth of 22 feet.

This led to a walkway that was five feet tall and three feet wide that ran 590 feet across the border to San Luis Rio Colorado in Mexico. Mexican authorities reported that a search of a residential property on August 15 found an entrance to the tunnel under a bed. 

"There was no mechanism to physically come up to the small opening" in the KFC location, said Brown in a press conference. "The narcotics we believe were raised up by a rope [and] then loaded into the tool box and taken out of the abandoned restaurant."

Yuma Sector Chief Patrol Agent Anthony Porvaznik said that the tunnel will be filled with cement to keep others from using it.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.