Marietta man the third sentenced in Georgia prison drone plot

A federal judge sentenced a Marietta man to federal prison for attempting to use a drone to fly contraband onto a prison yard. (AJC file photo)

Credit: TNS

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A federal judge sentenced a Marietta man to federal prison for attempting to use a drone to fly contraband onto a prison yard. (AJC file photo)

Credit: TNS

A Marietta man became the third person remanded to federal prison for trying to smuggle contraband to a Georgia prison using a drone.

U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen sentenced 24-year-old Cheik Hassane Toure to 12 months in federal custody during a hearing Thursday in Augusta, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office.

Toure pleaded guilty to serving or attempting to serve as an airman without an airman’s certificate on April 28. He’s been in custody since June 9 after violating his bond. Bowen ordered Toure to pay a $1,000 fine and serve a year of parole after he’s released from prison.

“The growing field of unmanned aircraft has bloomed enormous possibilities for legal commerce and recreation, but like all technological advances it also has provided a new tool for those who would attempt to smuggle contraband inside prison walls,” said David Estes, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia in a statement.

Toure conspired with brothers George and Nicholas Lo to fly tobacco, cell phones and other contraband onto the yard at Telfair State Prison in 2019. On June 29, Bowen sentenced both brothers to a year in federal prison for their roles in the plot.

U.S. Department of Justice officials say the Georgia prosecutions are likely the first in the nation for illegally piloting a drone without obtaining the required FAA airman’s certification. Federal law requires registration of unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 pounds or more. Federal prosecutors said the men exceeded that limit and pilots of any unmanned aircraft must have an airman’s certificate when paid to fly the aerial devices.

Prosecutors say George Lo, 27, was serving time in the Telfair State Prison for armed robbery when he masterminded the scheme from behind bars. He acquired a Storm 4 drone then enlisted Toure, from Austell, and his 25-year-old brother, from Dallas, Georgia, to smuggle items.

Toure and Nicholas Lo practiced flying the aerial device and George Lo paid them to deliver the contraband.

Telfair County deputies spotted a suspicious vehicle with no lights parked about 100 yards from the prison about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 26, 2019. Nicholas Lo and Toure were found hiding in a wooded area near the prison. They were carrying a large duffle bag that contained the drone, a video monitor and headset, 14 cell phones, at least 74 grams of tobacco, a digital scale and earbud headphones.

Georgia lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 that gave state judges power to sentence anyone convicted of intentionally flying a drone over prison grounds to at least a year in jail.

“Thanks to the vigilance of our law enforcement partners, this particular scheme was grounded before delivering its payload,” Estes said.

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