2 arrested in plot to fly contraband into prison with drone

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JESSUP, Md. (AP) — Police arrested two men with a drone near a Maryland state prison as the men prepared to fly drugs, tobacco and pornography into the maximum-security institution, state police and prison officials said Monday.

The arrests on Saturday near Cumberland highlight a growing problem for prison operators nationwide as they struggle to get ahead of the mini-helicopter technology. Officials have also reported prison contraband smuggling attempts involving drones in South Carolina and Ohio.

The Yuneec Typhoon model seized from the men's vehicle has a cargo capacity of 6 to 8 ounces, police said. That's enough to carry the packages of tobacco, synthetic marijuana, prescription narcotics and pornographic DVDs seized in the arrest, but not enough to hoist the pistol that police said was also found with the men.

Larger drones exist that could carry a gun, said Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"That's my biggest fear," he told a news conference. "The use of these drones to bring this type of contraband into a facility is very, very troubling, and we're going to address it."

Moyer said he will ask the General Assembly to fund the installation of drone-detection technology at state prisons. The radar-like technology would cost $350,000 to $400,000 per prison. The technology is not needed at all 24 facilities the state operates, but about 20 could be eligible, corrections department spokesman Gerard Shields said.

Moyer said the investigation began several weeks ago, enabling authorities to arrest the men near the Western Correctional Institution, a nearly 1,700-bed institution in the Appalachian Mountains about 120 miles west of Baltimore.

Officers found the two men inside a vehicle with a drone, contraband and a handgun. They displayed the drone and photos of the contraband at a news conference. Officials say these are the first arrests on charges of attempting to use a drone to deliver contraband to a Maryland prison.

The investigation also involved an inmate suspected of collaborating with the men, Moyer said. Investigators found contraband in the inmate's cell and were preparing to charge him, he said.

The men arrested outside the prison are Thaddeus Casimir Shortz, 25, of Knoxville, and Keith Brian Russell, 29, of Silver Spring. Both have served prison time for assault. Russell was convicted on a narcotics charge in 2014, according to online court records.

No defense attorneys are listed for the men in court records. Private attorneys who represented them in the past said they had not been retained for this case.

Shortz was released on bail Sunday. Russell was being held at the Allegany County jail Monday with bail set at $100,000.


This story has been corrected to show that the state operates 24 correctional facilities, not 27.

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