EL CENTRO, Calif. (AP) - Two California men pleaded guilty to using drones to smuggle nearly 30 pounds of heroin from Mexico to the United States, authorities said Wednesday.
It was the first drug seizure involving a drone along California's border with Mexico, said Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs! Enforcement in San Diego. She was unaware of any other drone-related seizure on the 1,954-mile divide between the two countries.
Jonathan Elias, 18, and Brayan Valle, 19, admitted in federal court Tuesday that they picked up a bag with 28.6 pounds of heroin in a field in Calexico, California, after the drugs were sent across the border by drone.
Elias picked up Valle, who loaded the drugs and drone controller into Elias' trunk, according to a plea agreement. The incident was captured on Border Patrol camera.
"With border security tight, drug traffickers have thought of every conceivable method to move their drugs over, under and through the border," said Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. "We have found their tunnels, their Cessnas, their jet skis, their pangas, and now we have found their drones."
The discovery comes about four years after authorities began discovering ultralight aircraft making lightning-quick runs! across the border in California's Imperial Valley to drop bundles of marijuana, a tactic that has since become more common on other stretches of border. Like ultralights, drones are limited by the weight they can carry. But authorities are paying closer attention as they become more popular with consumers.
"It's more in an experimental stage and doesn't appear to be very successful or lucrative," Mack said.
The defendants, both from El Centro, each face maximum sentences of 20 years in prison when they are sentenced Oct. 20 for possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
In January, Mexican authorities said a drone carrying more than six pounds of methamphetamine crashed in a supermarket parking lot in Tijuana, near the nation's busiest border crossing with San Diego.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.
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