Eric Lee Brown, 35, pleaded guilty last week to federal charges related to attempting to use a drone to deliver marijuana to inmates at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Georgia. Brown, of Lithonia, Georgia, pleaded guilty to one count of “operating an aircraft eligible for registration knowing that the aircraft is not registered to facilitate a controlled substance offense.” He is facing a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, three years supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. Brown admitted to attempting to use a DJI Phantom 4 to deliver the drugs.
He was arrested on March 29 after Mitchell County deputies responded to a complaint of a vehicle impeding traffic near the prison. Brown was found inside the vehicle with 294 grams of marijuana and the drone. Evidence later emerged that Brown intended to use the unregistered aircraft to deliver marijuana to prisoners. Brown does not hold a valid remote pilot’s certificate or an FAA airman’s certificate as would be required to conduct commercial operations or to be eligible to conduct unmanned aircraft operations beyond visual line of sight.
Drone delivery of contraband into prisons is becoming an increasing problem nationwide. “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,” said U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler.