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20 arrested in South Carolina prison drone-based smuggling operation

Suspects have attempted to fly drones carrying everything from candy to guns over the prison fences at Lee Correctional Institution, according to officials.

LEE COUNTY, S.C. — An eight-month investigation into drone attacks at Lee Correctional Institution has resulted in 20 arrests and more than 100 pounds of contraband confiscated in frequent nighttime assaults on the Bishopville prison. 

The latest arrests occurred last weekend, when Lee County Sheriff’s officers arrested five people in two separate, unrelated groups attempting to fly drones carrying contraband over the prison fences.

“Our main focus is to stop contraband from entering the institution, and especially prevent someone from getting injured in the process,” Lee County Sheriff Daniel Simon said. “We formed this partnership years ago, working hand in hand with each other to keep the inmates and the public safe.” 

The investigation began in May 2021, with eight arrests being made through August. 

The 2022 arrests were all in January. 

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Lee Correctional Institution is a medium security prison for men, just outside the city limits of Bishopville, a small town near Interstate 20. 

“My officers are ready and willing to assist the sheriff’s office any time, especially when it involves the drone activity and contraband at the prison,” Bishopville Police Chief J.D. Dellinger said. 

“I’m grateful for the partnership we have with Lee County and the hard work their officers do to keep contraband from entering the institution,” SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said.

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The recent seizures at Lee include: 

  • About 100 pounds of tobacco 
  • About 13 pounds of marijuana 
  • About 843 grams of methamphetamines 
  • About 114 grams of crack cocaine 
  • About 49 grams of cocaine 
  • 25 cellphones 
  • Two knives
  • Three guns
  • 12 drones 
  • $6,393 in cash

Packages also included numerous charging cords, lighters, bottles of liquor, candy and clothing items. 

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Officers also have found three abandoned drones containing about five pounds of tobacco and 100 grams of meth in the woods near the prison fences. 

In the most recent incident, two unrelated groups of people were both trying to fly drones over the yard at the same time. 

Simon said one of those drones was the largest he’s ever seen. “These large drones can carry heavier and heavier packages,” Simon said. “We are working hard to stop them from getting in the wrong hands.”

RELATED: Inmate stabbed to death at Lee Correctional Institution

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