Brothers, one from Powder Springs, sentenced in plan to drone-lift contraband into prison

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Jul. 13—Two brothers, one of them from Powder Springs, have been sentenced to a year in federal prison after the Department of Justice said they tried to smuggle contraband into a Georgia prison with a drone.

The DOJ says the sentencing is likely the nation's first prosecution of a drone pilot.

George Lo, 27, of Powder Springs, and Nicholas Lo, 25, of Dallas, were both sentenced after pleading guilty to owning and operating an unregistered aircraft by another person, and serving or attempting to serve as an airman without an airman's certificate, respectively, according to a news release from the DOJ.

U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. also ordered each man to serve one year of supervised release after completion of their prison terms. There is no parole in the federal system.

A co-defendant from Austell, Cheikh Hassan Toure, 24, is awaiting sentencing after also pleading guilty.

The criminal prosecutions of the Lo brothers and of Toure are among the first in the nation under federal law regulating non-passenger aircraft, the news release states.

The prosecution of Nicholas Lo is believed to be the first in the nation for illegally serving as a commercial drone pilot.

"For as long as there have been prisons, inmates and their allies have attempted to circumvent security measures to introduce contraband inside the walls," said David H. Estes, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. "In recent years, the increasing use of remotely operated aircraft has added complexity to this challenge, but in coordination with our law enforcement partners we will continue to work to maintain secure incarceration facilities."

According to court documents and testimony, George Lo was serving a state sentence for armed robbery at Telfair State Prison in Telfair County when he conspired with Nicholas Lo, Toure and others to operate a Storm Drone 4 kit-built drone without registration or licensing.

The Lo brothers discussed using the drone to deliver contraband to Telfair State Prison, and Nicholas Lo and Toure practiced flying the aircraft, the DOJ says. George Lo planned to pay the two to fly the aircraft and deliver contraband, which he intended to sell to other inmates.

At 1:30 a.m., on Aug. 26, 2019, Telfair County Sheriff's deputies saw a vehicle park about 100 yards from Telfair State Prison and turn off its lights. During a search of the area, deputies found Nicholas Lo and Toure in a wooded area between the road and prison.

The pair had a large duffle bag with the drone, a controller, a video monitor and a headset inside. The bag also contained 14 cell phones, at least 74 grams of tobacco, a digital scale and earbud headphones. Both men were taken into custody.

Federal law requires registration of unmanned aircraft weighing .55 pounds or more, and the Storm Drone 4's weight was in excess of that requirement, the DOJ said. The law also requires the pilot of any unmanned aircraft to hold an airman's certificate when operating craft.

"Today's sentencing should serve as a warning that violating Federal regulations related to owning and operating drones will not be tolerated," said Todd Damiani, special agent-in-charge at the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General Southern Region. "As drones continue to be a more prevalent presence in our nation's airspace, we are committed to working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to ensure that protecting public safety and security remains paramount."

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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