Two Southern California residents pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling 28 pounds of heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border using what officials believe to be a Mexican drug trafficking drone, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy announced.
Jonathan Elias and Brayan Valle of El Centro appeared in federal court to face drug charges in what prosecutors are calling the first international narcotics seizure by U.S. law enforcement officials involving drones connected to Mexican drug traffickers.
In a guilty plea, Elias and Valle said they drove to an agricultural field in Calexico, a town near the border, to pick up the packages of smuggled drugs.
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Valle picked up them up using a drone controller. He then took the drugs and put them in a bag in the trunk of the car. U.S. Border Patrol agents later stopped them.
Elias and Valle knew the bags had drugs, but did not know what type of drugs or how many, Duffy said, as part of their guilty plea.
“The use of drones to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border is an emerging threat, which fortunately, has not proven to be a lucrative criminal enterprise in the Imperial Valley,” Ronnie Martinez, assistant special agent in charge for HSI El Centro, said in a statement. “HSI and our law enforcement partners on the Imperial Valley Border Enforcement Security Task Force are working together to identify and dismantle the criminal organizations behind drone smuggling activity and to wipe out their illicit experiments.”
They are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 20 at 8:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.