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Former inmate sentenced for using drones to smuggle contraband into Fort Dix prison

Jason Arteaga-Loayza, 30, of Jersey City, was sentenced to 43 months in prison. Alleged co-conspiractors have charges pending.

Image of entrance to the Federal Correctional Institution Fort Dix in Burlington County.
Image of entrance to the Federal Correctional Institution Fort Dix in Burlington County.Read moreGoogle Street View

A 30-year-old North Jersey man was sentenced Tuesday to 43 months in prison for a smuggling scheme that used drones to deliver contraband to inmates at the Fort Dix federal prison in Burlington County.

Jason Arteaga-Loayza, a.k.a. “Juice,” of Jersey City, was a former inmate at Fort Dix and participated in the drone-smuggling operation in the months after his release, from October 2018 to June 2019, acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said in a news release.

Arteaga-Loayza had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl. He also pleaded guilty to violating his supervised release that followed his incarceration at Fort Dix from June 2017 to September 2018.

Arteaga-Loayza was arrested on Oct. 12 in Vermont by federal marshals.

Joel Silberman, Arteaga-Loayza’s attorney, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that his client “took responsibility for his wrong doings and is grateful for the fair treatment in the sentence imposed. He looks forward to completing his sentence and rejoining his family.”

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton also sentenced Arteaga-Loayza to three years of supervised release.

Three other men have charges pending in connection with the drone-smuggling operation.

Officers at Fort Dix knew something was up the same month Arteaga-Loayza started his role in the operation.

On Oct. 30, 2018, the officers saw a drone with a fishing line hovering above the rooftop of a housing unit, prosecutors said when Arteaga-Loayza was charged last year.

Below a rooftop hatch, which had its bolts removed, officers found a bag that contained tobacco, cellphone chargers, and USB-charging cables. In the same area, officers found a cellphone that likely was used to coordinate the drone drop. Prosecutors said officers found an inmate with wet knees near the hatch, indicating he had been kneeling on the wet roof.

The ensuing investigation led to a search of Arteaga-Loayza’s residence in June 2019.

Prosecutors said Arteaga-Loayza and his alleged conspirators planned drone drops to occur at night, and they flew the drones from concealed positions in the woods surrounding the prison. The lights on the drones were covered with tape to make them hard to see.

The contraband smuggled into the prison also included weight-loss supplements, eyeglasses, and other items.