A US citizen has been charged with using a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine from Mexico by drone, officials said on Friday.
Jorge Edwin Rivera, 25, admitted using drones to smuggle drugs five or six times since March, typically delivering them to an accomplice at a nearby gas station in San Diego, according to police.
It was an unusually large seizure for what is still a novel technique to bring illegal drugs into the United States.
Rivera was initially apprehended on August 8, when Border Patrol agents tracked a drone across the border and followed it to Rivera, about 2,000 yards from the border.
This 2-foot-high drone that a border agent spotted swooping over the border fence on August 8 was used to smuggle more than 13 pounds of meth from Mexico, officials say
Agents seized 12 bags of meth from Rivera, who had hidden them in a lunchbox, cops say
Agents found Rivera with the methamphetamine in a lunch box and a 2-foot drone hidden in a nearby bush.
The suspect said he was paid about $1,000 for the attempt that ended in his arrest, police said.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration said in a recent annual report that drones are not often used to smuggle drugs from Mexico because they can only carry small loads, though it said they may become more common.
In 2015, two people pleaded guilty to dropping 28 pounds of heroin from a drone in the border town of Calexico, California.
That same year, Border Patrol agents in San Luis, Arizona, spotted a drone dropping bundles with 30 pounds of marijuana.
Alana Robinson, acting US attorney for the Southern District of California, said drones haven’t appealed to smugglers because their noise attracts attention and battery life is short.
A US Customs and Border Patrol helicopter is seen on the US side of the border near San Diego in this file photo. The drone smuggling attempt also happened somewhere near San Diego
Also, drone payloads pale in comparison to other transportation methods, like hidden vehicle compartments, boats or tunnels.
As technology addresses those shortcomings, Robinson expects drones to become more attractive to smugglers.
The biggest advantage for them is that the drone operator can stay far from where the drugs are dropped, reducing the risk of getting caught.
‘The Border Patrol is very aware of the potential and are always listening and looking for drones,’ Robinson said.
Benjamin Davis, Rivera’s attorney, declined to comment.
Rivera is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on September 7.