Two Hudson County men were charged with using drones to smuggle drugs and other contraband to inmates at the Fort Dix federal prison in Burlington County, authorities said.
Nicolo Denichilo, 38, of Jersey City, was released from custody on $100,000 unsecured bond after a court appearance while his accomplice, Adrian Goolcharran, 35, of Union City, remained at large, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal agents learned of at least seven deliveries by drone of contraband since July destined to inmates at the low-security prison, authorities said. Investigators seized smuggled items, including marijuana, steroids, more than 160 cell phones, 150 SIM cards, 74 cell phone batteries and chargers, 35 syringes and two metal saw blades.
Denichilo was arrested Thursday after agents at the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office discovered from prison sources of a drone launch site, according to a criminal complaint. Officers spotted a drone over a housing unit at the facility and caught Denichilo hiding in a ditch near the launch area.
“The color of his clothing was dark, suggesting an effort on [Denichilo’s] part to conceal himself in his surroundings while launching and flying the drone,” an agent wrote in the complaint. “Additionally, in a search incident to arrest, agents obtained from his pocket seven crisp $100 bills, likely all or a portion of payment for his role in the drone launch.”
Goolcharran, however, managed to escape as agents closed in, according to authorities.
Prison officials also found an inmate near a drop site for the drone delivery who had 34 cell phones, along with several chargers, SIM cards and other telephone gear, authorities said.
Goolcharran arranged the drone deliveries using text messages, aerial photos of drop sites in the prison and chatted about weather that could impact the flights, according to court filings.
An unnamed co-conspirator, identified as a then-inmate, texted Goolcharran, “U think that u cud do something 2m.”
“2m too windy 2o mph,” Goolcharran responded, a reference to weather that could hinder a possible flight, according to the complaint.
Not all of the drone flights worked without problems. In a September drop, Fort Dix officers spotted a package with green wire attaching it to a drone, which was stuck in a tree, according to the document. That package contained cell phones among other goods.
On the same day as an April drone delivery, local police pulled over Denichilo and Goolcharran less than five miles from the prison, according to authorities. Last week, a person matching Goolcharran’s description was captured on surveillance video carrying and flying a drone from a wooded-launch spot located near Fort Dix.
Goolcharran also brought several drones for repairs at a store, including a broken drone linked to broken propeller pieces that agents recovered near the prison, court documents said. Investigators also recovered his DNA from electrical tape found on one of the drone’s used in a July drop.