Feds Indict Dozens Over Alleged Drone Smuggling Operation Lifting Drugs into Texas Prisons


It was a massive operation, the Department of Justice in East Texas says, and the latest case of drones being used to airlift drugs, weapons and other contraband into prisons in the state.

An 11-count indictment, announced in a DOJ press release Friday, includes 42 defendants, though around half of the names are redacted in a superseding indictment filed late last month.

Among those listed in the indictment is Yeshmel Wright, a 35-year-old man from Dallas. Wright, who appeared in federal court this week, is accused of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute synthetic marijuana.

If he’s convicted, Wright, who’s already in prison, could face a life sentence. At publication time, an attorney listed for Wright hadn’t returned the Observer’s request for comment.

On Aug. 15, U.S. Magistrate Judge Christine Nowak ordered Wright to remain in pretrial detention, according to court filings.

The indictment is sealed, but the DOJ release said the defendants used “drones and mail to smuggle drugs and contraband such as cellular phones into prisons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”

Charges against defendants include multiple counts of robbery, conspiracy to distribute drugs, firearms violations, money laundering and using an aircraft for drug trafficking, among others.

As part of the operation, the feds allege, heroin, synthetic marijuana and methamphetamines were smuggled into Texas prisons.

During seizures, law enforcement also reportedly recovered several kilos of heroin, fentanyl pills, meth and synthetic marijuana, as well as some $150,000 in cash, vehicles and jewelry.

It’s the latest case of what U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham recently described as contraband-carrying drones “quickly becoming the bane of prison officials’ existence.”

An audit by the DOJ Office of Inspector General in 2020 found that the number of drone incidents documented by the Bureau of Prisons had spiked by some 50%, although the audit admitted that the total tally likely undercounted how often drones are being used to smuggle contraband into prisons.

“We found that the BOP faces significant and growing challenges to protect its facilities from drone threats,” that audit said. “Drones have been used to deliver contraband to inmates, but could also be used to surveil institutions, facilitate escape attempts, or transport explosives.”

By email, the BOP recently told the Observer that it was “committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates, staff, and the public, which includes addressing the security threats that Unmanned Aerial Systems (i.e., UASs or “drones”) pose to our facilities.” 

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