An Atlanta-area man has become the third defendant to be remanded to federal prison for using a drone to smuggle contraband into a Georgia state prison. The prosecutions in the case are believed to be among the first in the United States under federal law regulating non-passenger aircraft.
24-year-old Cheik Hassane Toure, of Marietta, Georgia, was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to “Serving or Attempting to Serve as an Airman Without an Airman’s Certificate.” Additionally, the court has also ordered Toure to pay a $1,000 fine and to serve one year of supervised release after completion of his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
As DroneDJ reported earlier, Toure’s co-defendants, brothers George Lo and Nicholas Lo are already serving sentences after pleading guilty to the scheme.
As reports of drones delivering contraband to prisons increase, David H. Estes, Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, sees this case as an opportunity to send across a strong message that law enforcement agencies are committed to keeping the skies safe:
The growing field of unmanned aircraft has bloomed enormous possibilities for legal commerce and recreation, but like all technological advances, it also has provided a new tool for those who would attempt to smuggle contraband inside prison walls. Thanks to the vigilance of our law enforcement partners, this particular scheme was grounded before delivering its payload.
Using a drone to smuggle contraband into a Georgia state prison
As described in court documents and testimony, George Lo was serving a state sentence for armed robbery at Telfair State Prison in Telfair County when he began to hatch a scheme with his brother to deliver contraband to the prison. A Storm Drone 4 kit-built aircraft was to be used without registration or licensing.
Meanwhile, the contraband – 14 cell phones, at least 74 grams of tobacco, a digital scale, and earbud headphones – was intended to be sold to other inmates.
However, Telfair County Sheriff’s deputies were able to intercept and apprehend Nicholas Lo and Toure in a wooded area between the road and prison before the plan could be materialized.
It’s worth highlighting that federal law requires registration of all drones weighing 0.55 pounds or more, and the Storm Drone 4’s weight was in excess of that requirement. The law also mandates drone operators to hold an airman’s certificate when operating the aircraft for compensation or hire.
As Todd Damiani, Special Agent-In-Charge, US Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Southern Region, sums up:
Federal laws and regulations related to owning and operating drones serve to ensure the safety of the public and our nation’s airspace. Violating those laws while attempting to smuggle contraband into a state prison is a recipe for disaster.
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