by Jordan Arizmendi
In an indictment unsealed on April 13, 2023, four people were accused of using drone aircraft to deliver drugs into California state prisons. The indictment was brought in federal court for the Eastern District of California on February 6, 2023, against Michael Ray Acosta, 48, and three others who allegedly made the aerial drug drops at Pleasant Valley State Prison, as well as other prisons across the state.
The drones allegedly dropped the contraband on prison rooftops, “stuffed inside of a pigeon or hidden in a mop head,” according to the indictment. Along with Acosta, the alleged ringleader, Rosendo Rene Ramirez, 34, was also charged with using a fleet of 10 drones to supply phones, heroin and SIM cards to prisoners at High Desert State Prison in Lassen County and Salinas Valley State Prison in Monterey County.
Also charged in the scheme were Jose Enrique Oropeza, 34, and David Ramirez, 34. Oropeza was charged with conspiracy to own and operate an unregistered drone, as well as possession with intent to distribute heroin and marijuana. Ramirez was charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs and conspiracy to own and operate an unregistered drone.
They allegedly flew the drones from fields around the prisons at night. According to Sgt. Craig Parkhill, a gang investigator for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at Centinela State Prison in Imperial County, a prisoner would send his phone’s GPS location to the drone pilot in order to make the drop. The package was usually disguised as a piece of garbage or a rock, he added, in case a guard discovered it first.
Drones are used to smuggle contraband into prisons around the country. In Texas on October 6, 2022, Bryant LeRay Henderson, 42, pleaded guilty to piloting drone delivery of methamphetamine, tobacco, MP3 players, vape pens and phones into the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth. Just over a month later, on November 9, 2022, 44-year-old Davien Phillip Turner – also known as Davien Phillip Mayo – pleaded guilty to making a drone drug drop at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas.
In New Jersey on February 3, 2022, Nicolo Denichilo, 40, and Adrian Goolcharran, 37, pleaded guilty to smuggling cellphones and tobacco into the federal prison at Fort Dix. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.62.]
U.S. Attorney Antonio J. Pataca is prosecuting the California case, which is being investigated by the FBI, CDCR and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Sources: KTRK, Los Angeles Times, San Joaquin Valley Sun
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