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Cincinnati.com | The Enquirer

Men who operated drones over Reds' and Bengals' stadiums during games plead guilty

By Kevin Grasha, Cincinnati Enquirer,

2023-03-14
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On Opening Day in April 2022, Travis Lenhoff wanted a dramatic photo of himself and his friends in front of the Moerlein Lager House near Great American Ballpark.

He sent up a drone. It came back down. Then Lenhoff was approached by authorities and ultimately charged with a federal crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

Lenhoff, like many drone owners, wasn’t aware that he needed to register the device with the Federal Aviation Administration. Or that there was a temporary flight restriction around the stadium.

“By me going through what I’ve gone through,” he said, shortly after pleading guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, “hopefully people will learn from my mistakes.”

The 38-year-old Northern Kentucky resident pleaded guilty to violating a temporary flight restriction. As part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, Lenhoff’s sentence is expected to be one year of probation and 40 hours of community service. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott could depart from that agreement, although she’s not expected to do so. A sentencing hearing has not been set.

Lenhoff was one of two men who pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to drone-related crimes.

In a different courtroom, 24-year-old Dailon Dabney admitted operating a drone that actually flew into what was then known as Paul Brown Stadium, during the Jan. 15, 2022, playoff game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Dabney’s drone, a DJI Mavic Air 2, hovered over players while the game was being played, court documents show.

Video “from the drone shows that the drone hovered over (some) of the players and the stadium crowd during the game,” the documents say.

Dabney, of Springfield Township, pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, he is expected to be sentenced to one year of probation. His case is before U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland.

'Not worth risking federal criminal charges'

Officials emphasized that it is illegal to fly drones over stadiums that are designated as temporary flight restriction zones during sporting events. In both Lenhoff’s and Dabney’s cases, no unauthorized drones were allowed to fly within that zone from one hour before to one hour after the games.

“It is not worth risking federal criminal charges to illegally fly a drone over events like Reds and Bengals games," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said in a statement. "Even if there is no intent to harm, this conduct poses a direct risk to the players and the individuals in the stands.”

Lenhoff said anyone who intends to buy a drone or who already owns one that isn’t registered should register it with the FAA.

According to federal law, any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds must be registered with the agency.

Lenhoff, who described himself as a hobby photographer, said he no longer has the drone.

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