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A Smithville man who allegedly flew a drone loaded with drugs and other contraband into prison has been federally charged, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Bryant LeRay Henderson, 42, was arrested at his residence on Thursday, charged via criminal complaint with one count of attempting to provide contraband in prison, one count of serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate, and one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He will make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton at 11 a.m. today.
“Contraband drone deliveries are quickly becoming the bane of prison officials’ existence. Illicit goods pose a threat to guards and inmates alike – and when it comes to cell phones, the threat often extends outside prison walls. We are determined to stop this trend in its tracks,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham.
“The criminal element will always take advantage of new opportunities for illegal activity as technology progresses,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno. “In this instance, excellent collaborative investigation among federal and local agencies led to multiple federal charges and prevented contraband from entering the federal prison system.”
According to court documents, Mr. Henderson allegedly flew a DJI Inspire drone into the airspace over FMC Fort Worth, a federal correctional in the south part of the city, just before midnight on Wednesday, May 4. The drone crashed inside a secure, fenced-in yard near the prison’s HVAC shop, where staff recovered it. Affixed to the drone was a package containing 46 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 87 grams of pressed THC, two prepaid smartphones, and nine mp3 players.
Law enforcement pulled surveillance video from a nearby high school and observed a young male drive up in a red Chevy Tahoe with a Transformers decal on the rear window, remove a drone and a package from the vehicle, launch the drone towards the prison, and then drive off:
In a review of other surveillance footage, law enforcement identified a red Tahoe with an identical Transformers decal. From that footage, they were able to pull a license plate number. Two and a half weeks later, officers found the Tahoe abandoned in a travel lane, flashers on and hood up. It was impounded and later searched.
Inside the vehicle, law enforcement found Mr. Henderson’s debit card, a DJI drone controller, various drone accessories (rechargeable batteries, a propeller box, and dropping mechanisms), 18 smartphones, tobacco products, and vacuum-packed containers with steroid labels connected to a fishing line and a key ring.
They later powered on the controller recovered from the car next to the drone recovered from the prison yard. The devices immediately paired. From the drone, investigators recovered 70 usable flight logs, which included date/time stamps as well as speed, height, and location data. They identified four flights that intruded into FMC Fort Worth’s airspace, and another two that intruded into airspace over FCI Seagoville, another federal correctional center southeast of Dallas.
Law enforcement then queried Mr. Henderson’s records and found that the phone was near FMC Fort Worth around the time of the drone cash, and near FCI Seagoville near the time of the drone’s flight into the prison’s airspace.
The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General queried the FAA’s database and reported that Mr. Henderson did not possess an airman’s certification, and that the drone in question was registered to another owner who cancelled his registration in August 2018. FAA records confirmed that the federal correctional institutions were restricted flight areas.
Drone delivery of contraband is an increasingly vexing problem for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state corrections officials. Just last month, a 44-year-old Houston man was charged in the Eastern District of Texas for allegedly operating a drone over FCI Beaumont in east Texas. In April, a 30-year-old former inmate pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle phones and tobacco into FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey. And last fall, three Atlanta men were sentenced to a year each in federal prison for using drones to smuggle contraband into Telfair State Prison in Georgia.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation of wrongdoing, not evidence. Like all defendants, Mr. Henderson is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
If convicted he faces up to 45 years total in prison: 20 years for attempting to provide contraband in prison, 5 years for serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate, and 20 years for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office – Fort Worth Resident Agency, the Bureau of Prisons Special Investigative Staff, and the Fort Worth Police Department conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Dallas Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Levi Thomas is prosecuting the case.