A Smithville, Texas, man was arrested last week for allegedly flying a drone loaded with contraband into the airspace over a Fort Worth federal correctional facility in May, according to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Bryant LeRay Henderson, 42, allegedly flew a DJI Inspire drone into Federal Medical Center Fort Worth airspace at about midnight on May 4 before it crashed inside a secure, fenced-in yard near the prison’s HVAC shop, where staff recovered it, according to court documents.
Upon recovery, prison staff allegedly found the following contraband attached to the drone: two prepaid smartphones, nine mp3 players, 87 grams of pressed THC, and 46 grams of crystal methamphetamine.
Surveillance video pulled from a nearby school showed a man driving a red Chevy Tahoe with a Transformers decal on the rear window, taking a drone from his vehicle and launching it towards the prison before driving off.
Through a review of other surveillance footage that captured the same SUV, investigators pulled a license plate number and located the vehicle two and a half weeks later. It had been abandoned in a travel lane, with its flashers on and hood up.
Authorities impounded the vehicle and searched it, leading to the alleged discovery of Henderson’s debit card, a DJI drone controller, and other drone accessories such as rechargeable batteries, a propeller box, and dropping mechanisms. They also recovered tobacco products, a key ring, 18 smartphones, and vacuum-packed containers with steroid labels connected to a fishing line.
When law enforcement powered up the controller recovered from the vehicle and the drone from the prison yard, both devices reportedly paired immediately.
Investigators recovered 70 usable flight logs from the drone, which displayed date and time stamps as well as speed, height, and location data. The logs also apparently showed four flights within FMC Fort Worth’s airspace and another two into the airspace over FCI Seagoville, another federal correctional center southeast of Dallas.
Upon review of Henderson’s records, investigators concluded that his phone was apparently near FCI Seagoville around the time the drone flew into the prison’s airspace and near FMC Fort Worth when it crashed.
The prisons’ airspaces are restricted, according to the Federal Aviation Administration database, and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General determined that Henderson did not possess an airman’s certification. The drone belonged to another individual who had canceled his registration with the FAA.
Henderson was arrested at his home on August 11 and charged 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.
“Contraband drone deliveries are quickly becoming the bane of prison officials’ existence,” Meacham said in reaction to the charges. “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.”
Drone delivery of contraband to inmates has proven to be a significant concern for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state corrections officials.
A federal grand jury similarly indicted Davien Phillip Turner, also known as Davien Phillip Mayo, 44, last month on charges of owning or operating a drone that was not registered and serving or attempting to serve as an airman without an airman’s certificate.
Law enforcement found Turner while he was operating a drone on the property of the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont.
An individual identified as Jason Arteaga-Loayza, aka “Juice,” of Jersey City, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in April 2021 to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and one count of possession of heroin and fentanyl with the intent to distribute.
Arteaga-Loayza, 30, admitted to participating in a conspiracy to use drones to smuggle contraband into the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix.
Cheik Hassane Toure, 24, was sentenced in August 2021 to one year in federal prison after admitting to a scheme to use a drone to smuggle contraband into a Georgia state prison. Toure was the third suspect sentenced in that case; his brothers, George Lo, 27, and Nicholas Lo, 25, were sentenced to 12 months each.
Meacham’s office maintained that the charges against Henderson are merely allegations of wrongdoing. However, if found guilty, the Texan faces up to 45 years total in prison – 20 years for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, 20 years for attempting to provide contraband to a prison, and five years for serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate.
It is not clear whether the suspect has an attorney.