ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day Created with Sketch.
87°
Mostly Cloudy
H 88° L 65°
  • cloudy-day Created with Sketch.
    87°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 88° L 65°
  • cloudy-day Created with Sketch.
    67°
    Morning
    Mostly Cloudy. H 88° L 65°
  • cloudy-day Created with Sketch.
    82°
    Afternoon
    Mostly Cloudy. H 86° L 66°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg news on demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg traffic on demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg weather on demand

00:00 | 00:00

National
Smugglers use drones to deliver contraband to prisoners
Close

Smugglers use drones to deliver contraband to prisoners

Smugglers use drones to deliver contraband to prisoners
Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
This recreational drone is much smaller than the Chinese-built 184 MegaDrone that will soon provide personal taxi service in Dubai.

Smugglers use drones to deliver contraband to prisoners

As drones become more accessible, Channel 9 has learned that more smugglers are using them to sneak contraband into prisons.

Inmates are able to receive phones to order hits on witnesses or rivals, and to keep running criminal organizations. They can also get weapons from the drones.

Even a small drone is fairly noisy, so it may seem far-fetched that criminals can pull this off without guards finding out. But smugglers and inmates know the lay of the land and they’re finding that window of opportunity when no one's watching.

>> Read more trending news

Drones have been spotted at multiple prisons in North Carolina and South Carolina, even the two that house death row inmates: Central Prison in Raleigh and Lieber Correctional near Charleston.

Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke went to Raleigh to interview Kenneth Lassiter, deputy director of North Carolina's prison system.

"It is a major issue," said Lassiter. "The contraband concept is really at a totally different level with a drone because they can bring in anything they really choose to, undetected."

Stoogenke also visited Columbia to interview Bryan Stirling, director of South Carolina's prison system.

"I am angry and I am frustrated," said Stirling. "There's no good reason to be flying a drone over a correctional institution."

One of the first cases to make national headlines took place in 2014, about 80 miles from Charlotte, at Lee Correctional in Bishopville, South Carolina.

Investigators said that Brenton Doyle set up base in the woods, launched a drone, and tried to drop contraband over the fence. But the drone hit a wire and crashed.

Most common contraband drone deliveries:

  • Cellphones
  • Cigarettes
  • Marijuana
  • Weapons

Erich Bean, a prosecutor in Maryland, won one of first drone delivery cases in the country.

He believes Thaddeus Shortz had made four successful deliveries before investigators finally caught him about to make $30,000 by delivering synthetic marijuana, loose tobacco, rolling papers, pornography and at least one cellphone to maximum-security Western Correctional in 2015.

"I had never stopped to think of something like this so it was so unique," Bean told Channel 9. "It's surprisingly simple."

How these schemes work:

  • Drone operator smuggles a cellphone into the prison for an inmate early on
  • Other prisoners then place their orders with that inmate, and he passes them on to the drone operator
  • The inmates ask their loved ones outside the prison to pay the drone operator, some even use PayPal
  • The inmate gets a commission, usually 10 percent
  • The drone operator collects the items for the inmates
  • The inmate tells the drone operator when and where to drop the items so the guards and cameras don't see
  • The drone operator hides near the prison, flies the drone and makes the delivery
  • The drone operator even labels the packages so the inmate can distribute them quickly, without having to open them first

North Carolina would like to buy the technology to detect drones, but it's pricey -- as much as $1 million for each prison, and there are 55 in the state.

South Carolina is considering a new law that would make it illegal to fly a drone over a prison for any reason. The lawmaker behind it is Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who represents part of Lancaster County.

"Somebody could die because of this,” Sheheen said. “You know, if you had a drone deliver a weapon into a prison, you'd have a real problem."

The bill has already passed the Senate and is on to the House, so it appears well on its way to becoming law, possibly the first of its kind in the country.

Another way to foil these schemes is to jam cellphone signals, so even prisoners who sneak phones behind bars can't place orders.

"I want to make a cellphone no more valuable than a brick in an inmate's hands," Stirling said.

But a federal law from 1934 says that only the federal government can interfere with public airwaves, not the states. So eight governors, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, sent the feds a letter urging them to reconsider.

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory was not one of the eight.

In the meantime, states are allowed to use different technology called "managed access," which blocks some phones. Prison officials said it's more expensive and less effective than the technology that blocks all signals.

North Carolina is already taking bids to do that at two high-security prisons, including one in the Charlotte area -- Lanesboro Correctional. The other is Scotland Correctional in Laurinburg.

South Carolina is considering doing the same.

"This is a problem that is continuing and getting worse," Stirling said. "We're doing a lot of things to stop it, but it is very difficult. You know, our fences are only so high."

Read More
VIEW COMMENTS

There are no comments yet. Be the first to post your thoughts. or Register.

  • If you have outdoor plans for today, there will be no need to keep your eyes on the sky. National Weather Service Meteorologist Mark Plate says conditions will remain pleasant throughout the day in the Tulsa area. “It should still be a pretty nice day,” Plate said.  “Partly cloud skies, with the high temperature in the upper 80s.  Relatively low humidity values and light winds.” The low Sunday night will be around 63 degrees. We’ll see more of the same to start the work week.  NWS reports sunny skies though Wednesday and highs will remain in the upper 80s.  
  • If you’re carrying trafficking amounts of drugs, it’s probably not a good idea to drive through a police barricade.   Rufus Newsome learned that lesson the hard way Saturday night, when he reportedly drove through a barricade at the Tulsa officer-involved shooting scene.  This happened around 9:35 p.m., near 3rd and Garnett.  Police say Newsome was driving at a high-rate of the speed after passing the barricade and could have hit multiple pedestrians.  Eventually, he stopped and tried his luck on foot.   “Caught the suspect and the suspect resisted by pulling his hands away,” police said.  “As he was in custody, he spit two times on (officer’s name redacted).” Officers recovered a trafficking amount of cocaine base.   Newsome has been booked into the Tulsa County Jail.  
  • A suspect is dead, following an officer-involved shooting Saturday night near 4th and Garnett. Tulsa police report a pursuit stopped in the area and a suspect tried to flee on foot.   KRMG’s told he ran to a home, tried to kick in the door and then reportedly pulled out a gun.  During this time, he was shot by officers.   Neighbors we spoke to were concerned because they weren't sure what had happened. “All of a sudden we heard the gunshots,” a witness said.  “We didn’t know what was going on.” So far, no names have been released. We do know the suspect was said to be riding in a stolen car. KRMG will update the story when more information comes into the newsroom.
  • Responding to concerns about personal security for lawmakers after last week’s gun attack at a Congressional baseball practice, U.S. House leaders are moving to provide extra money to members for protection back home, as well as new funding to bolster the work of police and security officials on Capitol Hill. Under a plan approved by a House spending subcommittee on Friday, the Congress would provide an extra $7.5 million next year to the Capitol Police for an “increased security posture” around the Capitol, along with $5 million to the House Sergeant at Arms to help with security for lawmakers back in their districts. “We are taking a new fresh look at security,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the Chairman of subcommittee that deals with funding for the Legislative Branch. Our FY18 Legislative Branch funding bill increases efficiency & transparency in Congress, enhances security for Members & our constituents. pic.twitter.com/FI36tF2XeH — Rep. Kevin Yoder (@RepKevinYoder) June 22, 2017 “The tragic events of June 14 weigh heavily on these deliberations,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which could vote on the extra money as early as this next week. Also being put into motion is a separate plan to funnel an extra $25,000 to each member of the House – about $11 million in all – to help them increase security back in their districts. “The scariest part for us is there used to be this impression by the public that we all had security everywhere we went,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). “Now, everyone knows that isn’t the case,” Ryan added, as he lent his support to the extra funding for security as well. The money in this budget bill would not take effect until the new fiscal year – which starts October 1 – so, House leaders are ready to okay extra money immediately for members worried about security back in their districts. Roll Call newspaper reported that could be approved in coming days by the House Administration Committee. Yoder said Congressional leaders are also waiting to see if money raised in campaign contributions for House elections could be put to use for security as well. “Pending an FEC (Federal Election Commission) decision, we’re also looking at whether campaign funds could be used to continue to support security upgrades at personal residences,” Yoder added.
  • An unknown aged girl went to the hospital with burns to her legs, following an overnight house fire. KRMG’s told the fire started around 2:40 a.m., at a residence on West 50th Court North. The homeowner says he was able to get his daughter, grand daughter and sleeping brother out of the house. So far, firefighters haven't released a cause for the fire.  The homeowner believes fumes from a gas can in the garage may have cause the blaze.