Back in 1994, Danny Angel Rodriguez pistol-whipped a federal judge in his Coral Gables driveway and stole his Rolex watch. Then the full weight of the American justice system came crashing down on him for mugging U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith.
After spending 22 years in prison for that crime and associated firearm convictions, he was released in 2016, but apparently without learning his lesson about messing with the feds.
Rodriguez, 46, is now accused of masterminding a clever scheme to smuggle synthetic pot — into federal prisons. Rodriguez, investigators say, soaked legal papers in a liquid form of cannabis that inmates could swallow to get high. They say he used the names of actual South Florida criminal defense attorneys on the paperwork and mailings to make the pot-soaked shipments look legitimate.
His defense lawyers, Ramon Hernandez and Ana Davide, issued a statement regarding the drug distribution and money-laundering charges that could send Rodriguez to prison for the rest of his life. "Mr. Rodriguez's lawyers are moving on a number of legal fronts to bring this case to a just conclusion," the statement said.
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Rodriguez, who is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, was already sentenced in April to three years' imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez for violating his probation in the previous firearms case.
The FBI and prosecutors say Rodriguez did not act alone. In fact, his accomplice, Lucia Mendez, 46, pleaded guilty in May and is helping authorities in the case against him.
According to court records, the Federal Bureau of Prisons intercepted a package of the cannabinoid Adb-Fubinaca that was disguised as legal mail and sent to prison inmates in April of last year. Rodriguez and Mendez used a couple of mailing ruses to distribute the synthetic marijuana to prisoners at federal correctional facilities nationwide, an FBI affidavit says.
The duo's primary trick involved creating legal packets with the names of seven legitimate criminal defense attorneys in South Florida and fabricating logos, cover letters and business envelopes to give them the appearance of professionalism. They created an email address, email@example.com, and a website, www.helterblackerdorchaklawfirm.com, featuring photos of actual attorneys in their offices.
"Once the packets were created, the documents were impregnated [soaked] with the narcotic and mailed to numerous federal inmates throughout the United States," the affidavit says. "Rodriguez often mailed the packages himself, and Mendez accepted payment and laundered those payments through personal business bank accounts."
During the 2017 investigation, FBI agents said they seized 33 packages sent to prison inmates by Rodriguez, most of which tested positive for the drug at the time the affidavit was filed in December by federal prosecutor Cristina Maxwell. At that time, the rest of the packets were still being tested for the narcotic.
Rodriguez also penetrated the Federal Bureau of Prisons' mailing system by creating packets of pot-soaked funeral announcements and obituary notices.
"These mailings consisted of photographs and obituaries of individuals purporting to be related to the inmate receiving the mail," the affidavit says. "The packages appeared to have been mailed from 'Christ Fellowship Church, Miami, Florida.' ''
FBI agents seized two of these packages, which also tested positive for Adb-Fubinaca.
During the investigation, agents said they also collected video and photographic evidence of Rodriguez at South Florida post offices while he was sending packages marked as "legal mail" with the return addresses of four different criminal defense attorneys.
Agents also uncovered evidence showing that Rodriguez and Mendez used their company, Pink Broom Cleaning Services, for "laundering the illegal proceeds of their narcotics trafficking scheme," the affidavit says.
Bank records showed that inmates' payments for the narcotics were deposited into their company's bank accounts as well as personal accounts held by Rodriguez and Mendez. Inmates generally paid them with checks made out from their commissary accounts or with cash and money orders.
Agents said Rodriguez used an email account to instruct the various prison inmates who bought the drugs on how to make the payments and where to send them. Normally, he instructed inmates to make the checks out to "Lucia Mendez" and mail them to the Pink Broom Cleaning Services' address.
An indictment filed in December accuses Rodriguez and Mendez of sending 18 packets of Adb-Fubinaca to unidentified inmates between January and October of last year.
The indictment also charges Rodriguez with four money-laundering counts involving his depositing about $44,000 in ill-gotten drug proceeds at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood.
The Rodriguez case was investigated by the FBI and other federal agencies with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.