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Fla. COs intercept drone carrying tobacco, cellphones from inmate’s family

An inmate’s wife and daughter were caught near the prison’s front gate with a remote control and iPad in the backseat

By Daniel Figueroa IV
Tampa Bay Times

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Christmas was supposed to come early for an inmate at a state prison in Indiantown.

Instead, his wife and daughter are in jail now, too. The Martin County Sheriff’s Office said the two of them used a drone to try and deliver tobacco and cell phones to the rooftop of the inmate’s housing Sunday morning.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, staff at the Martin County Correctional Institute saw a drone hovering near the rooftop of one of the inmate housing centers around 1:30 a.m., possibly dropping a package off. Around the same time, corrections officers saw a black pickup truck rolling slowly down Allapattah Road, just in front of the center.

Deputies and corrections officers caught up with the truck about a mile north of the center.

Concetta Didiano, 22, was driving. Her mother, Cassanra Kerr, 40, was in the passenger seat. Kerr initially told deputies the pair had driven the nearly 200 miles from their home on Covered Bridge Court in Tampa so she could teach her daughter how to drive a truck.

Around the same time, another vehicle near the front gate of the prison had run into a drone and corrections officers had discovered a package containing contraband.

Kerr’s story changed.

“I did it,” she told deputies. “The remote and iPad are in the backseat.”

Kerr told law enforcement she bought the drone on eBay and brought it to the prison to deliver phones and tobacco. She launched the drone from the back of the truck and piloted it from the rear seat while her daughter drove. Deputies said Didiano confirmed the story.

Both were charged with introducing contraband into a correctional center and were taken to Martin County Jail. Kerr faces an additional charge of operating a drone inside a correctional institute.

The mother-daughter duo are the latest figures in a growing prison smuggling problem across Florida.

Ex-cons say $20 cell phones can get $400 in prison. Some tried-and-true smuggling methods like throw-overs or the body cavity smuggle are still used, but things are beginning to become more high tech.

In November, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a May drone smuggling operation that was busted at the Columbia Correctional Institution near Lake City.

The Times reported that more than 9,000 cell phones have been removed from Florida prisons since 2017.