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Joint investigation grounds drones, imprisons smuggler

A former inmate at Fort Dix, N.J., from June 2017 to September 2018, was sentenced to 43 months in prison and three years of supervised release, for his role in a conspiracy to use drones to smuggle contraband into the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix, and for possessing, with intent to distribute, heroin and fentanyl. (Courtesy photo)

A former inmate at Fort Dix, N.J., from June 2017 to September 2018, was sentenced to 43 months in prison and three years of supervised release, for his role in a conspiracy to use drones to smuggle contraband into the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix, and for possessing, with intent to distribute, heroin and fentanyl. (Courtesy photo)

QUANTICO, Va. --

A Jersey City, N.J., man, who relied on state-of-the-art technology to facilitate his criminal activity, was no match for the joint investigative effort that put him behind bars, again.

Jason Arteaga-Loayza, 30, a former inmate at Fort Dix, N.J.,  from June 2017 to September 2018, was sentenced, via video conference Sept. 14, 2021, to 43 months in prison and three years of supervised release, for his role in a conspiracy to use drones to smuggle contraband, including cell phones, cell phone subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, tobacco, weight-loss supplements, eyeglasses and more into the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix, and for possessing with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl.

Arteaga-Loayza, who was on federal supervised release at the time of the offenses, also pleaded guilty to violating his supervised release. Following the search of his residence, he moved from his home and did not inform his probation officer of his whereabouts.

Agents of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (DOJ-IOG), Cyber Investigations Office, the Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 307, Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-IOG), Northeast Region, teamed on the investigation leading to the sentencing.

Three other men, Adrian Goolcharran, Nicolo Denichilo, and Johansel Moronta were also charged with using drones to smuggle contraband into Fort Dix prison. The charges and allegations contained in the criminal complaints issued against the remaining defendants are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

“We coordinated with DOJ-OIG, DOT-OIG, the Assistant United States Attorney, and Tech Services to conduct physical surveillance, search warrants, video surveillance to collect evidence for the investigation,” said OSI Det. 307 Commander, Special Agent Nicholas Kaplan. “DOJ-OIG passed us intelligence, which led us to the launch location on the night we arrested Denichilo.”

According to case documents and court statements: Arteaga-Loayza, participated in multiple drone deliveries of contraband into Fort Dix after his release from prison. Between October 2018 and June 2019, he arranged for Goolcharran, assisted by Denichilo, to fly drones over Fort Dix and drop packages of contraband into the prison, where it was sold to inmates for a profit.

Arteaga-Loayza, with Moronta’s assistance inside the prison, took inmate requests for specific contraband items, and oversaw the collection of payments. Arteaga-Loayza also collected contraband for upcoming drone drops and stored it at his Jersey City residence. 

Arteaga-Loayza and his conspirators took various steps to prevent prison officials from detecting and intercepting the contraband. They planned drone drops during late evening or at night, when the drones were less likely to be seen. They flew the drones from concealed positions in the woods surrounding the prison. The lights on the drones were covered with tape to make it more difficult for prison officials to spot them. 

The drones also posed an aerial danger.

“They operated directly in the flight path of JBMDL’s arriving aircraft,” SA Kaplan explained. “During the night of the arrests visibility was low. Arriving aircraft were flying at approximately 200 feet above ground, well within the drone’s operational capability. The drone pilot had to clear the trees, operating at a minimum of 60 feet above ground, likely much higher since they had a payload attached to fishing lines hanging from the bottom of the drone.” 

The drone has a maximum altitude of 8,200 feet, which if flown along the approach/departure corridor, could affect the five critical phases of flight: short final, landing roll, missed approach, departure roll, and takeoff.

“Since the lights on the drone were covered, an aircraft pilot would not be able to detect it, thus increasing the risk of a collision,” SA Kaplan said.

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.

Federal Bureau of Prisons personnel at Fort Dix, special agents of the FBI, special agents of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, officers with the Pemberton Borough Police Department, officers of the Pemberton Township Police Department, and officers of the Chesterfield Township Police Department, also assisted in this case.

“The entire team performed exceptionally during the course of this investigation led by SA Angelo Marino,” lauded SA Kaplan. “The amount of late nights, OSI specialty involvement and interagency coordination was something to behold. Every team member played a role in this investigation and I couldn’t be prouder watching them all working together and get the win for OSI and the Air Force.”

Editor’s Note: The Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey, contributed to this article.