Drone Drug Delivery Prison Operation in Georgia Leads to 150 Arrests of Inmates, Dirty Correctional Officers

High Times
Tue, Apr 9

Prison walls do little when drones can easily deliver drugs and other contraband to prisoners, and the tactic appears at prisons all across the country. Georgia Gov. Brian P. Kemp announced last week that 150 individuals were arrested in a drone drug delivery operation that served inmates in Georgia correctional facilities as law enforcement confiscated 67 pounds of pot and various other drugs.

“Operation Skyhawk” was a joint investigative effort between the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Streets Gang Task Force. Eight dirty GDC correctional officers who allegedly took part in the operation were also arrested and immediately terminated from their positions.

NBC News reports that items that have been confiscated thus far during the operation include a full range of illegal drugs, with a total combined street value of over $7 million. This includes 87 drones, 22 weapons, 273 cell phones (which are banned in the prisons), 180 civilian cell phones, 185 pounds of tobacco, 67 pounds of pot, 12 pounds of meth, 51 pounds of ecstasy, 10 grams of cocaine, and 90 various pills. Photos of the confiscated drugs and weapons, including Wonka-branded products, were also released. Three large vacuum-sealed bags of flower can also be seen in the photos.

The governor announced the arrests in a March 28 press release. Search and arrest warrants were served at two locations in the Metro Atlanta area—taking down a “sophisticated, multi-state criminal enterprise that included civilians, inmates, and staff involved in contraband introduction into GDC facilities.”

“Georgia will not tolerate those who put our communities at risk by trafficking drugs, weapons, and contraband both in and out of our correctional facilities,” said Kemp. “I want to thank Commissioner Oliver, the hardworking men and women of the GDC, and all law enforcement who worked to shut these operations down and help keep both Georgians and our correctional facilities safe.”

“Operation Skyhawk” led to over 1,000 criminal charges stemming from contraband introduction, drug trafficking, and felons in possession of firearms. 

The governor also announced that many of the individuals arrested will also be facing Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges and Participation in Criminal Gang Activity in multiple venues across the state, resulting in what may be the largest Gang RICO investigation in the state’s history.

Law enforcement officers warned that many other states may also be affected by the same criminal enterprise.

Drone deliveries in California and Kansas recently led to a total of 10 indictments. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California posted a press release on Thursday, announcing that four defendants have been indicted in schemes to deliver drugs into prisons via drone.

In that case, drones delivered not only weed, but spice/K2 drugs that mimic weed, butane oil, and an assortment of other drugs and contraband items. If convicted of conspiracy charges, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years to life in prison and fines of up to $10 million. If convicted of possession with intent to distribute drugs, the defendants face a statutory penalty of five to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.

Meanwhile, another team of criminals allegedly used drones to deliver drugs into the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.  Between August 2020 and May 2021, drugs on demand were available, and inmates into the prison yard could order specific drugs.

Last September, an Australian woman and two accomplices pleaded guilty in court to using a drone in an attempt to traffic multiple different drugs and a USB stick filled with pornography into a Queensland, Australia prison yard.

In that case, 27-year-old Cheyenne Anniki Petryszyn was on parole when a drone containing Buprenorphine strips, methamphetamine, and a USB thumb drive containing pornography was found in an exercise yard where it crash-landed.

Prison staff said they found a drone on the ground near a baggie containing 79 strips of Buprenorphine which is a drug used to treat opioid dependence, 0.94 grams of meth, and the USB drive containing an undisclosed amount of pornographic material. 

Law enforcement is also using drones to spot cannabis operations—particularly in California. A pilot program involving the use of drones to spot illegal cannabis grow operations took place in 2021 in Nevada County, California.

In many areas in California, growers have the challenge of competing with illicit operations amid an epic oversupply problem—driving some operators into the black market. 

Also in 2021, a House appropriations committee backed federal efforts to track down illicit grow operations on public lands in California. If issues around cybersecurity and domestic production can be resolved so that drones can be fully trusted, it could become a reality in more areas.