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Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Flying Drone With Contraband into Prison

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The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham announced that a Smithville man charged with flying a drone loaded with drugs and other illicit goods into the Fort Worth correctional center pleaded guilty on October 5.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, 42-year-old Bryant LeRay Henderson was arrested on August 11 at his home and indicted on one count of attempting to deliver contraband into prison, one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and one count of serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate.

On October 5, 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.

As stated in court papers, Henderson admittedly flew a drone filled with items such as cell phones, mp3 players, and contraband, including tobacco, THC, and methamphetamine, into the airspace of FMC Fort Worth. He admitted to knowing the drone was loaded with contraband.

The drone, a DJI inspire, crashed inside a secure yard near the prison’s HVAC shop and it was found by staff.

Surveillance video from a high school close to the prison showed Henderson pull up in a red Chevy Tahoe, according to law enforcement. He removed the drone and a package from his vehicle and then launched the drone toward the prison before driving off.

When agents recovered the Chevy, they found a DJI drone controller, rechargeable batteries, dropping mechanisms, and a propeller box. Upon switching on the drone recovered from the prison yard beside the controller found in the car, the two devices paired immediately.

A search of the drone yielded 70 usable flight logs, including date or time stamps as well as location, speed, and height data. Investigators also identified four flights that trespassed into FMC Fort Worth’s airspace and two others that intruded into airspace over FCI Seagoville.

Authorities also recovered 18 smartphones. Law enforcement officers checked Henderson’s phone records and found that the phone was close to FMC Fort Worth around the time of the drone crash and near FCI Seagoville around the time the drone flew into the prison’s airspace.

When the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General checked the FAA’s database, they found that Henderson did not have an airman’s certification. The drone was registered to another owner who canceled his registration in 2018. 

Authorities said drone delivery of contraband has been an issue for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state corrections officials. A 44-year-old Houston man was charged in September for allegedly operating a drone over FCI Beaumont in East Texas. In April, another 30-year-old former inmate pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle phones and tobacco into FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Three Atlanta men were also recently convicted for using drones to smuggle contraband into Telfair State Prison in Georgia and were sentenced to a year each in federal prison last fall.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham said.

Meacham added that law enforcement will do all they can to stop such crimes.

Henderson might spend up to 20 years in prison.

The investigation was a partnership between The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office – Fort Worth Resident Agency, the Fort Worth Police Department, and the Bureau of Prisons Special Investigative Staff. The Dallas Police Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General assisted with the investigation.

FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno attributed the success of this investigation to “excellent collaborative investigation among federal and local agencies.”       

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