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Third man pleads guilty in U.S.-Canada drug tunnel case

Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE- The last of three men charged with digging the first sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnel under the U.S.-Canadian border pleaded guilty Friday.

Timothy Woo faces at least five years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million when he is sentenced for conspiracy to smuggle marijuana, as do Francis Devandra Raj and Jonathan Valenzuela, who previously entered guilty pleas.

The three, all from Surrey, British Columbia, were arrested last July. Authorities said they had just finished the 360-foot tunnel north of Lynden, which ran from the living room of a home on the U.S. side to a boarded-up Quonset hut on the Canadian side.

It was the first drug smuggling tunnel discovered on the U.S.-Canada border.

Border guards noticed construction materials being brought into the hut and loads of dirt coming out, and investigators used the Patriot Act's provision for "sneak-and-peek" search warrants to examine the tunnel and set up cameras to monitor it.

Woo's plea comes two days after a Senate bill was introduced to make cross-border tunneling punishable by 20 years in prison. Though it is illegal to avoid examination at the border, tunneling is not specifically a crime.

"This is an issue of national security," said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., one of the sponsors. "We need to keep drugs out of our communities and terrorists out of our country."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 35 border tunnels have been discovered in the United States _ all but one on the Mexican border, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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