RIVERSIDE, CA — A man caught using a drone to fly illegal drugs from his house to drop on his customers in a nearby parking lot pleaded not guilty Tuesday to possession of controlled substances for sale and other felonies.
Benjamin Paul Baldassarre, 39, was arrested last month along with his girlfriend, 31-year-old Ashley Lauren Carroll, following an undercover Riverside police investigation into alleged illegal activity at Baldassarre’s residence in the Orangecrest area.
Along with three counts of possession of drugs for sale, the pair were charged with child endangerment and possession of drug paraphernalia. Baldassare was on probation, police said.
Baldassarre was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Helios Hernandez, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Friday at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Carroll was ordered to appear at the same hearing. She was arraigned separately a week ago.
Both defendants are held in lieu of $100,000 bail — Baldassarre at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, Carroll at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
According to Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback, in the first half of December, investigators were alerted to possible drug dealing out of a residence in the 8700 block of Chesapeake Lane. Narcotics detectives began surveillance and observed a drone fly out of the backyard of the property to a nearby public parking lot, where a package was dropped from the aerial vehicle, Railsback alleged.
Several people were waiting for the drop and collected the contents. The activity prompted investigators to obtain a search warrant, which was served on Baldassarre and Carroll Dec. 21.
Officers immediately requested assistance from the fire department’s hazardous materials team after locating “used and uncapped hypodermic syringes scattered throughout a bedroom,” Railsback said. Along with the biohazard, officers uncovered an undisclosed quantity of methamphetamine, as well as “unpackaged powders believed to contain fentanyl,” he said.
The defendants were taken into custody without incident.
Baldassarre’s 9-year-old daughter was removed from the residence, unharmed, and placed in the care of Riverside County Child Protective Services staff, who eventually released her to her mother, Railsback said.
According to court records, Baldassarre has prior misdemeanor convictions for driving under the influence of drugs and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Both defendants are also each charged in an unresolved drug-related case, records showed.
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