Texas prison drone drug-smuggling ring busted, netting 42 suspects

drone delivery contraband prison

Law enforcement officials in Texas have arrested 42 people in an alleged criminal ring that used a drone to smuggle drugs into state prisons, including an inmate who now risks a life sentence for his role in the plot.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) made the announcement of the arrests, saying all 42 suspected have been charged with breaking federal conspiracy laws by using drones in smuggling drugs into state prisons. Among  those indicted include an inmate currently in the Fannin County Detention Center north of Dallas, who – if convicted – risks seeing his sentence extending to life behind bars.

Accusations against the crew range from distributing narcotics, money laundering, firearms violations, operating an aircraft to facilitate drug trafficking, and Hobbs Act robbery offenses.

Once tipped to the activity, the TDCJ joined with an array of law enforcement agencies to investigate the ring’s use of drones to deliver drugs and other contraband into prisons, and subsequently learn the scope of the smuggling operation. That, the communiqué said, led to the seizure of several kilograms of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl pills known as M30, synthetic marijuana, and around $150,000 in cash and jewelry. 

ReadDrone delivery activity booming to global… prison inmates 

No details have been released on exactly how the smuggling group worked, or why such a large number of people were involved in the furtive activity of flying drugs into prisons via drone. Officials overseeing the investigation call the bust a significant blow to the rising problem of illegal UAV deliveries of banned substances to penitentiaries.

“I hope this indictment resonates with others who may want to smuggle contraband into our secure facilities,” said TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier. “TDCJ will continue to work closely with the Office of Inspector General and federal authorities to combat criminal enterprises behind the prison walls.”

The news out of Texas came in the wake of arrests in Georgia of two men now facing charges of having smuggled drugs, including 280 grams of meth, into state prisons by drone. Use of drones to smuggle drugs and other contraband into prisons has become a major plague for authorities around the US and abroad.

Read more: Drone duo busted for piloting drugs into Georgia prison 

Profits that can be made selling banned items on internal black markets have fueled the use of UAVs for aerial trafficking, a method unions representing guards say succeeds more often than fail – much less discovered – reducing risks of arrest by those behind the illegal missions.

The same problem is on the rise in Texas, where the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General released an audit indicating a 50% surge in drone activity near or above Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in 2020 alone. The findings noted it number of sightings it worked from is almost certainly lower than the actual number of flights that take place around the banned airspaces of penitentiaries. 

“We found that the BOP faces significant and growing challenges to protect its facilities from drone threats,” the audit read. “Drones have been used to deliver contraband to inmates, but could also be used to surveil institutions, facilitate escape attempts, or transport explosives.”

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