A Smithville man plead guilty Wednesday to flying a drone loaded with drugs and other contraband into prison, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Bryant LeRay Henderson, 42, was charged via criminal complaint in August. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging one count of attempt to provide contraband to a prisoner before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton.
“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 federal charges and prevented contraband from entering the federal prison system.”
In plea papers, Mr. Henderson admitted to flying a drone loaded with contraband – including methamphetamine, THC, tobacco, cell phones, and mp3 players – into the airspace of FMC Fort Worth, a federal correctional center in the south part of the city. He admitted he knew the drone was carrying prohibited items and that he piloted it.
According to court documents, the drone, DJI inspire, crashed inside a secure, fenced-in yard near the prison’s HVAC shop, where staff recovered it.
Law enforcement pulled surveillance video from a nearby high school and observed a Mr. Henderson drive up in a red Chevy Taho, remove a drone and a package from the vehicle, launch the drone towards the prison, and then drive off.
Shortly thereafter, they recovered the Chevy, where they found a DJI drone controller, various drone accessories (rechargeable batteries, a propeller box, and dropping mechanisms), and 18 smartphones.
They 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 cell 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.
Mr. Henderson now faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
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.
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.