Georgia Cracks Down On Prison Drone Smuggling Ring

The state of Georgia announced the arrest of 150 individuals last Thursday linked to an elaborate scheme designed to smuggle contraband into prisons using drones. The initiative was dubbed by law enforcement as “Operation Skyhawk.” The successful operation points out the power of technology and coordination in cracking down on organized criminal efforts to threaten the safety and security of correctional facilities.

The investigation, initiated in November 2022, revealed a sophisticated network that utilized drones to deliver mobile phones, drugs and weapons into the confines of Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) facilities. The collaborative effort led by the GDC, with pivotal support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Safe Streets Gang Task Force, culminated in a series of raids in the Metro Atlanta area, targeting a drone repair shop in Gwinnett County, among other locations.

In a press release, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) highlighted the operation’s success in dismantling a criminal enterprise that spanned multiple states, involving a mix of civilians, inmates, and corrections staff. “Georgia will not tolerate those who put our communities at risk by trafficking drugs, weapons, and contraband both in and out of our correctional facilities,” Kemp stated, emphasizing the state’s commitment to law enforcement and the safety of its citizens.

The operation led to the immediate termination of eight Georgia Department of Corrections employees implicated in the scheme. Over 1,000 charges have been filed related to the smuggling operation, including drug trafficking and possession of firearms by felons. Many suspects are also facing potential charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and gang-related offenses, potentially marking the largest gang-related RICO case in the state’s history.

Authorities seized 87 drones, 273 contraband mobile phones, and 22 weapons during the raids, alongside significant quantities of tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and cocaine, with the street value of the seized items estimated at $7 million. This substantial haul underscores the scale and sophistication of the operation, as well as the relentless efforts of law enforcement to combat it.

The collaborative nature of the operation, involving hundreds of local law enforcement partners, was crucial to its success. Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Tyrone Oliver remarked on the operation’s impact: “The success of ‘Operation Skyhawk’ should be a reminder to anyone — inside or outside our prisons — that we have zero tolerance and will take swift action against those who threaten the safe operations of our facilities and the safety of the public.”

“Operation Skyhawk” represents a critical victory in the ongoing battle against criminal enterprises operating within and around the U.S. prison system. The innovative use of drones for contraband smuggling poses a significant challenge to law enforcement and corrections officials, demanding equally sophisticated countermeasures.

This operation also illustrates the importance of interagency cooperation in tackling complex criminal networks. By uniting the expertise and resources of local, state, and federal agencies, Georgia has set a precedent for effectively addressing and dismantling operations that compromise the safety and security of correctional facilities and the American public.