Brayan Valle, 21, was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for attempting to smuggle marijuana across the border via a remote-controlled drone – the first case of its kind.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Valle’s defense attorney, Kathryn Thickstun, argued that he just wanted to buy some pot. He contacted a colleague of his uncle’s and ended up getting roped into a much more dangerous scenario. Instead of selling the dope to the kid, he was asked to smuggle drugs over the border from Mexico into the U.S.
On April 15, Valle ended up using a drone to smuggle 30 pounds of heroin from a find in the area of Calexico, California.
It took several hours for the drone to make four drops over the border, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Hobson told the newspaper.
Valle attempted to back out, Thickstun said, but believed he didn’t have that option. He solicited the help of a high school friend, Jonathan Elias. The plan, according to Valle, was that Elias drive him to the pickup and drop off points.
Prosecutors say the smugglers gave Valle cellphones, so they could communicate with each other via WhatsApp texts, and the drone’s remote control, which allowed him to instruct the claw of the drone to drop the drugs.
Valle drove to the appointed fields and began filling a backpack with bubble-wrapped packages filled with what he thought was marijuana, but it turned out to be heroin.
U.S. Border Patrol agents watched Valle dump the backpack into the trunk of the car.
Both Valle and Elias pleaded guilty to possession of drugs with intent to distribute.
The judge took Valle's past criminal record, which includes a battery conviction and reports of making violent threats to his ex-girlfriend, into account in his sentencing.
Elias is scheduled to be sentenced on June 3. Phone calls to his attorney were not returned at the time of publication.