International Smuggling by Drones Nets 28 Pounds of Heroin
Contact: Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson (619) 546-6986
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 12, 2015
SAN DIEGO – El Centro residents Jonathan Elias and Brayan Valle pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to drug charges, admitting that they smuggled 28 pounds of heroin into the United States using drones.
This is believed to be the first international narcotics seizure by U.S. law enforcement involving the use of drones by Mexican drug traffickers, according to Homeland Security Investigations.
The defendants entered guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Lewis to possession of heroin with intent to distribute and aiding and abetting, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841 and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2. The offense involved approximately 28.55 pounds of heroin.
According to their guilty pleas, on or about April 28, 2015, Elias drove Valle to pick up packages of drugs that were smuggled by drones near an agricultural field in Calexico near the border. Using a drone controller, Valle picked up packages of narcotics and placed them inside a bag. They placed the bag in the trunk of their vehicle and were subsequently stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents. As part of their plea, defendants admitted that they knew that there were narcotics inside the bag, but did not know the quantity or type of narcotics inside the bag.
“With border security tight, drug traffickers have thought of every conceivable method to move their drugs over, under and through the border,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “We have found their tunnels, their Cessnas, their jet skis, their pangas, and now we have found their drones.”
“The use of drones to smuggle drugs across the U.S./Mexico border is an emerging threat, which fortunately, has not proven to be a lucrative criminal enterprise in the Imperial Valley,” said Ronnie Martinez, assistant special agent in charge for HSI El Centro. “HSI and our law enforcement partners on the Imperial Valley Border Enforcement Security Task Force are working together to identify and dismantle the criminal organizations behind drone smuggling activity and to wipe out their illicit experiments. As part of this effort, a dedicated group of investigators from multiple law enforcement agencies are assigned to investigate all aerial smuggling activity along the border, and to seize any illicit proceeds linked to their failed attempts.”
Sentencing is scheduled for October 20, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 15-cr-01437
Jonathan Elias Age 18 El Centro, California
Brayan Valle Age 19 El Centro, California
SUMMARY OF CHARGE
Title 21, United States Code, Section 841 and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in custody; $250,000 fine; three years of supervised release
Homeland Security Investigations – Special Agents (HSI)
U.S. Border Patrol, El Centro Sector