May 29th, 2008 @ 7:02pm
by Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ A Mexican man was sentenced in Tucson on Thursday to 25 years in prison in the funneling of more than 17,000 pounds of cocaine through a drug tunnel on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Francisco Valle-Hurtado, 38, of Naco, Sonora guarded cocaine loads with a machine gun after they had passed through the tunnel in Naco between 1996 and 1999, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office of Arizona.

The 200-foot tunnel connected a mobile home on the Arizona side of the border with a walled-in space between two houses on the Mexican side. It was abandoned for a time after authorities seized 5.6 tons of cocaine in a Tucson warehouse in December 1996, but cocaine began moving through the tunnel again in 1998.

During the investigation, an additional 2,600 pounds of cocaine, three fully automatic machine guns and $1.5 million in cash also were seized, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The office said more than 50 people connected to the tunnel have been convicted while five remain at large.

Valle-Hurtado was convicted last year of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and possessing a machine gun while committing cocaine violations .