Two Plead Guilty in Border Drug Smuggling by Drone

Kristina Davis, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2015

When 28 pounds of heroin made it across the U.S.-Mexico border near Calexico in April, it didn’t come by the usual methods of car, truck or tunnel. It came by drone, federal authorities said Wednesday, making it the first cross-border seizure by U.S. law enforcement involving the new smuggle-by-air tactic.

Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday to retrieving the drugs near California Highway 98 in Imperial County, a pickup that was captured on Border Patrol cameras on April 28, according to court records.

“With border security tight, drug traffickers have thought of every conceivable method to move their drugs over, under and through the border,” U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy said in a statement. “We have found their tunnels, their Cessnas, their Jet Skis, their pangas, and now we have found their drones.”

U.S. law enforcement officials call the use of drug-laden drones from Mexico an emerging threat, yet at the same time have questioned how profitable the practice can be because drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are limited in how much they can carry.

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Small drones, which have become easily accessible and affordable to the general public, can fly up to an hour and as far as five miles, and some can be navigated by preset GPS coordinates. Mexican media have reported that drug cartels are commissioning engineers for custom-made drones.

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