Schemer sentenced for using drones to smuggle contraband into prison

A Hudson County man –who is a former federal prison inmate in New Jersey– was sentenced today to more than three years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to use drones to smuggle contraband, including cell phones and tobacco, into the correctional facility at Fort Dix, and for possessing with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl.

Jason “Juice” Arteaga-Loayza, 30, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, drug possession with intent to distribute and violating his parole.

Arteaga-Loayza was one of four men charged in the plot to smuggle items into the prison at Fort Dix. Three other men–Adrian Goolcharran, Nicolo Denichilo, and Johansel Moronta– have pleaded not guilty to charges of using drones to smuggle contraband into Fort Dix prison. 

Arteaga-Loayza admitted helping to arrange the drone flights that dropped packages that included cellphones, accessories, tobacco, weight loss supplements, eyeglasses and other items into the prison where they contents were sold to inmates for a profit.

Arteaga-Loayza, who was on federal supervised release at the time of the offenses, also pleaded guilty to violating his supervised release.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton imposed the sentence today by videoconference.

According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Arteaga-Loayza was an inmate at Fort Dix from June 2017 to September 2018, and he subsequently participated in multiple drone deliveries of contraband into Fort Dix after his release from prison.

Fort Dix federal correctional institution is a low security prison with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp.

Between October 2018 and June 2019, Arteaga-Loayza arranged for Goolcharran, with Denichilo’s assistance, to fly drones over Fort Dix and drop packages of contraband into the prison, where it was sold to inmates for a profit.

The packages that were smuggled in included cell phones, cell phone accessories, tobacco, weight-loss supplements, eyeglasses, and various other items.

Arteaga-Loayza, with Moronta’s assistance inside of the prison, took inmate requests for specific items of contraband and oversaw the collection of payments.

Arteaga-Loayza also collected contraband for upcoming drone drops and stored it at his residence in Jersey City. 

Arteaga-Loayza and his conspirators took various steps to prevent BOP officials from detecting and intercepting the contraband. .

They planned drops during the late evening hours or at night and flew the drones from concealed positions in the woods with lights on the drones covered with tape, all to make it more difficult for prison officials to spot them. 

Arteaga-Loayza and his conspirators used cell phones, including contraband phones concealed within the prison, to coordinate the drone drops.

A contraband cell phone used by Moronta, who was an inmate at Fort Dix, contained text messages with Arteaga-Loayza about the collection of profits from the sale of the contraband inside of the prison.

In one exchange, for instance, Moronta messaged Arteaga-Loayza about an inmate, “Ok so I am tell him 10 phones and 100 baco (tobacco) he has to pay 10 bands and 500 on each phone?”  Arteaga-Loayza responded, “And well even give him an ounce of weed tell him.”

One of Arteaga-Loayza’s cell phones contained messages between him and Goolcharran coordinating drone drops.

For example, in April 2019, Arteaga-Loayza sent Goolcharran marked-up aerial photos of Fort Dix to show Goolcharran where to drop the contraband.

In another exchange, Arteaga-Loayza sent Goolcharran a message asking, “U think that u cud do something 2m.”  Goolcharran replied, “2m too windy 20mph.”

During a search of Arteaga-Loayza’s residence in June 2019, agents found packages of empty cell phone boxes, including a package with empty cell phone boxes that had been shipped to Arteaga-Loayza the day before a drone drop on Oct. 30, 2018, cell phone chargers, empty boxes of SIM cards, and several cell phones.

They also found bags of Bugler tobacco, consistent with the Bugler tobacco recovered in earlier drone drops. Arteaga-Loayza also had a suitcase in his bedroom that contained his driver’s license, 20 packets of Suboxone Sublingual Film, a prescription opiate, and a plastic bag containing over 21 grams of a substance containing heroin and fentanyl.  Following the search of his home, Arteaga-Loayza moved from his home and did not inform his probation officer of his whereabouts.

In addition to the prison term, Arteaga-Loayza was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Honig credited agents of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Cyber Investigations Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Keith A. Bonanno; the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 307, under the direction of Commander Nicholas Kaplan; and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Christopher Scharf, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The U.S. Attorney also thanked Federal Bureau of Prisons personnel at Fort Dix, under the direction of Warden Lamine N’Diaye; special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; special agents of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Mahoney; officers with the Pemberton Borough Police Department, under the direction of Chief Edward Hunter; officers of the Pemberton Township Police Department, under the direction of Chief David King; and officers of the Chesterfield Township Police Department, under the direction of Chief Kyle Wilson, for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey J. Manis and Cari Fais of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.

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