Four people have been accused of using drones to deliver drugs into state prisons.
The indictment was unsealed in Fresno’s federal courthouse and announced by U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert last week.
The big picture: According to court documents, the four suspects have been charged with coordinating drone deliveries of drugs – including methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and cocaine.
- They are also accused of smuggling contraband such as cellphones, cellphone accessories, butane oil and other items into the prisons.
The suspects: Michael Ray Acosta, 48, is charged with being the ringleader of the operation. He is an inmate at Pleasant Valley State Prison and has been charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs and contraband.
- Jose Enrique Oropeza, 34, is a resident of Colton in San Bernardino County and is charged with conspiracy to own and operate an unregistered drone, as well as the possession with intent to distribute heroin and marijuana.
- Rosendo Rene Ramirez, 34, of Sacramento faces charges of conspiracy to distribute the drugs and conspiracy to own and operate an unregistered drone.
- David Ramirez, 34, is also a Sacramento residents is charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs and conspiracy to own and operate an unregistered drone.
State of play: According to court documents, Acosta used a contraband cellphone in 2021 to coordinate multiple drone deliveries of contraband into Pleasant Valley State Prison and other prisons throughout California.
- The other three suspects allegedly flew drones over the prisons where they dropped the packages of contraband for further distribution throughout the prison population.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Acosta’s conspirators took various steps to prevent corrections officers from detecting and intercepting the contraband.
- They planned drone drops at nighttime and flew the drones from concealed positions in fields surrounding the prison.
- In addition to Pleasant Valley State Prison, the operation occurred at Corcoran State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison, High Desert State Prison and the state prison in Sacramento.
What we’re watching: The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Antonio J. Pataca and is a product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Federal Aviation Administration.
- If convicted of conspiracy to distribute the drugs, the defendants face a maximum of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.
- If convicted of possessing with intent to distribute heroin and marijuana or distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, the defendants face a maximum of five to 40 years in prison and a fine of $5 million.