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74-year-old gets probation in drug trafficking tunnel case

In 2014, federal authorities discovered several tunnels that were used to get drugs from the Mexican side of the border into the United States. A 74-year-old California woman who was implicated in the operation of one of those underground passageways was recently sentenced in federal court in San Diego to five years of probation. Authorities apparently suspected her involvement in the drug trafficking operation, but she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money and was fined $1,500 for her role in leasing the property along with two men that she knew.  

Agents found the 600-yard tunnel in April 2014. It started in Tijuana, Mexico and surfaced in an industrial warehouse in south San Diego. Federal agents reported that it was equipped with lights and a simple conveyor system to move large quantities of marijuana. It is unclear why the woman pleaded guilty to money laundering. It also appears from the public reports that she was not directly implicated in any drug trafficking activities.

She maintained at sentencing that she was helping the two men in leasing the warehouse, and she didn't know that they had another plan in mind. Presumably, she asserted that she did not know that the tunnel was a part of the reason for leasing the space.  When a defendant pleads guilty in federal court, a sentencing date will be set. The probation office will do a pre-sentence investigation and issue a report that contains a recommendation to the sentencing judge.

Although the reported facts are incomplete, it appears that she was sentenced on the premise that she was not directly handling drugs nor involved directly in a drug trafficking operation on the California side of the tunnel. Alternatively, the relatively light sentence may reflect her cooperation in prosecuting the other participants. Regardless of her advanced age, it is unlikely that she would have been spared a prison sentence under federal law if she actively participated in moving a large amount of drugs. The federal sentencing framework is too harsh for the woman to have escaped incarceration otherwise.

Source: Reuters, "Grandmother gets probation for role in San Diego drug tunnel", Marty Graham, June 26, 2015

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