On August 8, at about 11:30 at night, an agent patrolling the US-Mexico border near San Ysidro, California, heard the sounds of a buzzing motor coming from out of nowhere. However, the sound wasn't from a nearby car: it was coming from above.
Seconds later, the vigilant agent saw a remote control-operated drone whizzing over the Mexico border into US territory. From there, he tracked the flying machine and radioed fellow patrolmen. The authorities were eventually led to an entrepreneurial 25-year-old man who was caught hiding the drugs in a lunchbox. The $5,000 drone was found hidden in a nearby bush.
"Due to the agents' heightened vigilance, this drone smuggling scheme was stopped before these dangerous narcotics could enter our communities," Boone Smith, acting assistant chief US Border Patrol agent said in a press release.
Once arrested by border agents, Jorge Edwin Rivera quickly spilled the beans on the whole operation. According to federal court documents, Rivera, who was getting $1,000 for every successful transaction, was meant to deliver the more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine to a man identified as "Primo" at a San Ysidro gas station.
The narcotics in the package that was found weighed a total of 13.44 pounds and had an estimated street value of $46,000, according to the US Customs' press release.
The criminal complaint also revealed that Rivera had informed US Customs and Border Patrol officers and a Homeland Security Investigations agent that he'd regularly communicate with his Mexican contact to get instructions once he retrieved the drone and the narcotics.
Rivera has been charged with importing a controlled substance. His case is the first time US authorities have been able to capture the smuggler along with the remaining puzzle pieces in this new-age drug smuggling method.
"At least in our sector, we've never gotten all three at once — the drone, the receiver and the narcotics," Christopher Harris, a Border Patrol agent in the San Diego Sector, told the Washington Times.
This case is also the first time a drone smuggling arrest has occurred in the San Diego County.
"It's a concern," Mark Endicott, a Border Patrol supervising agent, told the San Diego Union Tribune. "I wouldn't call it an epidemic. We want to eliminate the threat before it becomes one."
Officials identified the captured drone as a Matrice 600 Pro, which, according to the manufacturer, can take off with a 13-pound load and fly at 40 miles per hour.