ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - A Georgia plan pleaded guilty to illegally attempting to drop drugs into Autry State Prison by drone, according to Charles Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
Eric Lee Brown, 35, of Lithonia, pleaded guilty to operating an aircraft eligible for registration knowing that the aircraft is not registered to facilitate a controlled substance.
Brown is facing a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Brown admitted he attempted to drop a large amount of marijuana into Autry State Prison through a drone, according to Peeler’s office.
Mitchell County deputies responded to a call on March 29, 2018. They found a vehicle impeding traffic near the prison. Brown was inside the vehicle and deputies smelled marijuana and saw the drone.
They also saw two clear plastic bags containing a green leafy substance. It was later confirmed to be 294 grams of marijuana.
Brown was taken into custody and search warrants found “detailed conversations” about using the drone to drop off drugs into the prison, according to Peeler’s office.
Brown did not register the drone and also did not have a valid certificate to fly the drone, according to the district attorney’s office.
“Working with state, local and federal authorities, our office will aggressively prosecute those who choose to smuggle cellphones, drugs or any other contraband into our state prisons. The use of drones is regulated by federal criminal statutes, and our office will not hesitate to use those statutes in the fight against prison contraband,” Peeler said. “I applaud the Department of Transportation, the Georgia Department of Corrections, and our local law enforcement for thinking creatively to bring this defendant to justice.”
“Mr. Brown’s guilty plea should be a very clear warning to anyone who chooses to illegally operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for unintended purposes,” said Todd Damiani, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) regional special agent in charge. “DOT OIG special agents, along with our federal, state, and prosecutorial law enforcement partners, will actively pursue those who unlawfully use federally-regulated modes of transportation for the distribution of controlled substances or contraband.”
“We are pleased to see justice being served on this individual, and we hope that his actions, and subsequent prosecution in the first-known criminal prosecution under this drone registration law, will serve as a warning to others considering introducing contraband into our facilities,” said Timothy C. Ward, Georgia Department of Corrections commissioner. “We applaud the work of our special agents, and we appreciate the commitment and collaboration of our law enforcement partners in their efforts to help ensure the safety of the public.”
A spokesperson for Peeler’s office said this is the first known federal conviction under the drone registration law.