The L.A. Times is reporting that the elaborate tunnel believed to have played a central part in the daring escape of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from a Mexican prison probably cost the kingpin millions of dollars and took as long as a year to construct, a former federal official says.
“I would say that the construction of that tunnel started days after Chapo Guzman was sent there,” Michael S. Vigil, former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Agency, told The Times on Monday.
Vigil, who has been briefed on the investigation, says construction on the tunnel may have begun as early as a year ago, soon after Guzman was sent to Altiplano, a maximum-security prison about 50 miles west of Mexico City.
The secret passage was nearly a mile long and was about 5 feet, 6 inches high, just tall enough for Guzman, who is believed to be 5 feet 5 at most, to stand up.
“Guzman has hired some of the best individuals that deal with mining technology, and he provides them with the resources to buy the best equipment,” Vigil said. “They tailor-made the tunnel for him.”
Guzman escaped from a 20-inch-square opening inside his prison shower and descended about 30 feet to make his way to the mile-long tunnel, which led to a house under construction and surrounded by empty fields.
Photos show the tunnel was reinforced by a wooden frame and contained lights and a ventilation system made out of PVC pipes, Vigil said. Workers also used GPS technology to accurately route the entrance to his cell and a motorcycle-adapted rail system to move the large amounts of dirt being excavated, he said.
It would be difficult to build such an elaborate tunnel without someone finding out. More than 30 prison employees have been detained for questioning.
"The tunnel had to cost maybe $5 million. But $5 million to El Chapo would be like $5 to you or I,” Vigil said.
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