HomeThis Is What Arizona Police Found Beneath A KFC

This Is What Arizona Police Found Beneath A KFC

When he woke up that morning, he never imagined the case would lead to him snooping around an abandoned KFC restaurant. 

Were they really expecting him to find something? It felt more like an episode of his favorite TV show ‘Breaking Bad’ than a real-life narcotics investigation. But when he saw the wall in the kitchen, he realized this was very much the real deal.

For Officer John Erwin, it seemed like a lead that was unlikely to check out. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worker had rooted through dozens of potential narcotics stores, but this was the first one that led him down such a curious rabbit hole.

Soon, Erwin would be knee-deep in chicken grease and conspiracy – and it all started with an anonymous tip-off.

Erwin got a tip-off from Homeland Security Investigation special agent Scott Brown after a routine traffic stop in San Luis, Arizona unearthed something that he decided was worth digging into.

At first, everything seemed normal to the traffic cops, but the police dogs felt very differently, leading them to open up some suspicious boxes in the trunk of the car.

While the license and plates all checked out, Ivan Lopez was hiding something that couldn’t evade the keen noses of the hounds: two containers of hard narcotics worth over $1million.

But once news of Lopez’s arrest became common knowledge, local rumors about who Ivan really was and how deep the case went started to circulate.

It was clear to the officers that discovered the high-value contraband that Ivan wasn’t your run of the mill smuggler, so a full investigation into his dealings was quickly greenlit.

Soon after word had gotten around, Brown received an anonymous call that had him looking into an abandoned KFC restaurant, but it wasn’t until he started to dig into Ivan’s other dealings that he started to take it seriously.

San Luis’ KFC had been left to rot. And as with a lot of abandoned buildings, rumors about what was inside quickly spread amongst locals.

Brown didn’t have time for ghost stories, so he couldn’t just take the caller’s word for it. But it was enough for him to dig a little deeper. And when he found the records he was looking for, he was straight on the phone to launch a full investigation.

“What could they possibly hope to find in there?” thought Erwin as he waited outside the KFC. He was well aware of Lopez’s arrest, the value of the narcotics found in his possession, and Brown’s suspicions.

But what reason did they have to believe the creepy old chicken restaurant was somehow part of his operation? No one would use a fast-food restaurant as a cover for an illegal operation outside of a TV show. Would they? 

Cops received tip-offs from local busybodies to investigate abandoned buildings and cars all the time, but it’s usually a case of rumors that got out of hand.

But when Brown discovered the empty KFC property was registered in the name of an Ivan Lopez, they simply couldn’t ignore it. Could it really be the same guy?

It’s hard not to be suspicious of a property that was bought for $390,000 cash, but that’s not what made it a hot topic amongst the townspeople.

The citizens of San Luis loved grabbing a bucket of chicken when the KFC’s doors were open, but when they closed without warning, whispers of the reason started to spread.

Despite having closed its doors, many residents of San Luis reported seeing lights turn on and off in the kitchen during the early hours of the morning.

Many suspected that someone was gearing up to open up the restaurant again. If not, why would there be cars visiting the property at night? And why were they drilling in there? As he stood outside the building ready to give his team the go-ahead, Erwin was about to find out.

The sign out front had faded after years of the Arizona sun beating down on it and the paint had blistered off the walls long ago. 

Erwin ignored the building’s unsettling exterior and quietly led his team through the empty building. As he looked at the desolate booths and abandoned fryers, Erwin figured he would be writing this one up as a dead end. Then they entered the kitchen.

Erwin ordered his team to spread out through the large, dirty kitchen to search for any evidence of late-night refurbishments, but there were no tools or any dust in sight.

But before he could wrap up the investigation, a hole in the wall caught Erwin’s eye. “It’s probably nothing,” he thought. But he wasn’t the type to leave a stone unturned.

The eight-inch hole was quite difficult to look into, so Erwin called his team over to help chip away at the opening so they could see what was behind the wall.

As the hole got bigger, Erwin realized they were onto something. Once his team had opened it up to make it large enough to peer inside, Erwin had to pinch himself to confirm he wasn’t dreaming.

He looked around at the faces of his team. Each expression reflected his own. They were in complete disbelief at what they had discovered. “What the?”, one officer exclaimed. 

Erwin told one of his men to hold the rope steady. He was preparing to go down when another officer cautioned that he should wait. “Hold on Erwin”, he said. “We should call for backup”. 

Erwin listened to the officer voicing caution as he stared down into a deep shaft. He dug out his flashlight from his pocket and shone it into the dark, dusty space. It was so deep he couldn’t get a clear idea of what it was. 

“Sir, we have no idea what’s down there”, another officer said. “We could be walking into a ticking time bomb”. 

Erwin ordered them to remain calm, call for backup, and remember their training because they were going in. Erwin came to the conclusion that in moments of discovery like these where the scene reeks of crime, every second is crucial. 

If they waited for back up, perhaps they would miss out on an arrest. Perhaps they would let someone bad run free and that wasn’t in his job description.  

After they called for backup, Erwin looked at the faces of his men. “We’re going in. No sudden movements, no loud noises or firing without justification. Stay level-headed and pay close attention to everything we may encounter down there, understood?”, he said.

Then he climbed through the hole and prepared to jump down into the darkness while his team waited for the all clear.

Erwin found himself crouching in a man-made tunnel lined with hundreds of wooden planks. He shone his flashlight in front of him to see the wood-planked tunnel disappear into the darkness. He stood for a moment in darkness until he was sure it was safe to bring his team down.

As his team dropped in to join him one by one, the additional flashlights lit the way ahead.

The tunnel was a tight space, measuring just three feet wide and five feet high. The smell of damp earth, wood, and dust filled the stale air. It felt like they had walked back in time to one of the historical tunnels built in Europe or Asia designed to flee war. 

There was nothing to do but follow the tunnel to what Erwin suspected would be a hidden storeroom, but he would soon find out how wrong he was.

Erwin and his team crawled through what turned out to be, a 600-foot tunnel with only their flashlights to show the way ahead.

Suddenly, Erwin had a dreadful realization that they should have waited for backup. If he knew how long this tunnel was and how it was big enough for people to walk through, he might have made a different decision. Now, he worried he made the wrong one.

Just as Erwin was thinking that there could be dozens of unsavory characters waiting for them at the other end of this tunnel, he spotted something in the distance.

It was a ladder, and behind that ladder was a wall. They had reached the end of the tunnel, but it was just the beginning. As they got closer, they realized the ladder led to a trap door. They weren’t out of danger yet.

Erwin knew this was crunch time. The whole search was leading up to this moment. If they were going to make an arrest or encounter a dangerous situation, it would happen right behind this door.

He signaled a command at his men to draw their weapon. Then he ascended the ladder and pushed the trap door open. 

Erwin felt confident that if they were going to be outnumbered, at least they had the element of surprise. This alone would give them the upper hand.  

Using both hands, he pushed hard on the door above his head. If he was entering a bad situation, he would have to act fast to grab his weapon. 

He flung the big wooden door open, ducked down, reached for his weapon, and rose again with his weapon at the ready. He climbed out and scoped the room while his team crawled up behind him.

Now, they were even more confused. Not one of the men could make sense of how they’d ended up where they did.

Before they could relax or speculate about were they were, they covered eachother as they went from room to room, surveying the area. It was clear. There wasn’t a sign of a single living soul.

They had broken through the trapdoor and climbed out straight into an almost unfurnished bedroom of a Mexican home. They had crossed the border. 

Erwin couldn’t believe his eyes. Thankfully, they avoided the dangerous situation he was imagining in his head. Unfortunately however, the lack of evidence and abandonment of the house meant that whoever had been using the tunnel was long gone.

Then he noticed something lying next to the trapdoor. Was that what he thought it was?

A long rope lay right next to the trap door. Now, everything made sense. He could see the transactions that happened here. 

He looked around the house again, searching for any other clues that would lead them to the full understanding of what went on here and how this operation was orchestrated and carried out. 

After putting two and two together, it was clear to officials that the reason for this brazen under-border tunnel was to enable Lopez and his cohorts to smuggle contraband into the U.S from Mexico.

Indeed, Lopez’s confiscated toolboxes held narcotics worth around $1 million. But how had they gotten away with it for so long?

Officials believe that, due to the tunnel’s size, the people involved in the trafficking would climb down through the trapdoor in the Mexican home and walk the 600-yard passageway until they were directly underneath the old KFC building.

They would then deposit the illicit substances and be lifted out with a rope through the eight-inch hole in the restaurant’s wall. And this tunnel isn’t even the first one of its kind in Arizona.

Erwin and his team knew that this kind of thing happened around the Mexican border but they never thought they’d come to uncover one in their lifetime, on their watch. 

But then again, alot of things have been changing recently, especially in relation to the US border. And as Erwin and his team were about to find out, this was becoming a common occurrence. 

“Tunnels are a time-consuming venture, but [they have] definitely increased since border security measures have ramped up,” H.S.I special agent Scott Brown said in a statement.

“One of the things that tunneling does tell us is that as we increase infrastructure, resources, patrol, that’s forcing them to go to more costly routes into the US,” he added.

Authorities believe that Lopez is a prominent member of the Mexican cartel. He is currently in prison without bail while he awaits criminal charges.

And while these cartel tunnels are becoming more common around the Mexican border, agent Scott Brown reveals that there was something particularly frightening about the KFC tunnel in Arizona.

According to Brown, the substances authorities found were all “hard narcotics”. He said, “I think that’s what makes this tunnel a little unique and, frankly, a little scarier than some of the other ones we’ve seen.”

Meanwhile, Richard Jessup, the town’s Chief of Police told the Washington Post that the surge in tunnels is not surprising.

“Generally along the southwest border, every couple of months, we’re encountering a tunnel,” Jessup explained. “Of course, if you can’t go over the wall, you go under [it].” And while most of these tunnels are left unfinished, some aren’t.

The KFC tunnel wasn’t the longest cartel tunnel by any means. In 2016, agents discovered a tunnel in San Diego, California that was nearly half a mile long, ending in Tijuana, Mexico. 

And it’s not even the first to start in San Luis. A case from 2012 found a passageway that linked the Arizona city with San Luis Rio Colorado in Mexico.

The tunnel shooting out from the abandoned fast-food restaurant is still a noteworthy addition to the long list of instances along the border, mostly because of the sheer weight of hard narcotics seemingly transported through it. 


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