A 25-year-old American man was caught using a drone to smuggle over 13 lbs of meth from Mexico into the United States. A load that large is significant, because the majority of smugglers avoid using drones to transport drugs across the border due to the noise drones make.
The man, Jorge Edwin Rivera, said that he used drones to transport narcotics at least five times since March of this year. He would usually deliver the drugs to someone at a San Diego gas station, and was to be paid $1000 if he successfully delivered the drugs to the accomplice.
On August 8th, a few San Diego border patrol officers allegedly witnessed the drone in flight, and followed it to Rivera who was nearly 2,000 yards away from the Mexican border. Rivera was allegedly found with a drone hidden in a bush, and a small lunch box full of methamphetamine.
A recent annual report released by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration revealed that smugglers do not rely on drones to transport narcotics from Mexico into the States, mostly because of noise issues and because drones themselves can only carry small loads; as drones become more advanced, it is expected to see more instances of drone smuggling, however. Drones have been used to smuggle prior to Rivera’s attempt: two people plead guilty in 2015 to moving nearly 30 lbs of heroin from Mexico into California using a drone. Border officers in Arizona have also seen drones dropping 30 lbs of marijuana in San Luis, as well.
The United States attorney for the Southern District of California, Alana Robinson, reiterates that drones are too noisy to appeal to smugglers, and also cites short battery life as another reason. She also says that when vehicle compartments, tunnels, and boats allow smugglers to transport larger amounts of drugs, those methods will almost always win over drone smuggling.
Robinson expects that drones will become more common transportation methods as they become more sophisticated. As drones become quieter, and able to carry larger loads, they will increase in appeal—particularly because pilots will be able to stay far away from the drop-off site, minimizing their chances of being caught by authorities.
Rivera’s attorney, Benjamin Davis, refused to comment on his client’s situation. Rivera was held without bail, and was arraigned in September of this year.