Alleged drug-delivery ringleader Michael Austin Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Woodstock,” at his arraignment last Friday. Photos by Jefferson Siegel
BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL | A massive drug ring was busted last Thursday night, April 11, when police raided apartments in several area housing projects.
Forty-one people were arrested and charged with running a cocaine delivery service. Thirty-three members of the Blocc Boyz gang from the Baruch Houses in the Lower East Side were charged with using car services to deliver cocaine orders. Another eight members of the Money Boyz gang from Campos Plaza in the East Village were charged with trafficking crack cocaine.
Charges ranged from conspiracy to criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance.
The dealers had posted photos of themselves on social media sites cavorting at a Queens strip club, where one of those arrested, Krista Zuniga, was a dancer. Other online photos depicted them holding wads of cash. At a news conference announcing the busts, prosecutors had printed out pages of photos and video stills from the Web, along with a pile of indictments the size of a small-town phone book.
Listed were 165 counts and 161 “overt acts” of sales and conspiracy.
Undercover officers made dozens of drug buys in 2011 and 2012 as they monitored the gangs’ activities on wiretaps. One damning e-mail blast the gang sent after Superstorm Sandy reassured their customers that they were still in business.
Last Friday morning, April 12, the first batch of defendants were brought to court for their arraignments. Security was so tight that, after family and friends had passed through magnetometers to enter the court building, they encountered a second level of court officers screening people as they entered the 11th-floor courtroom.
Krista Zuniga, fiancée of another of the alleged ringleaders, was a dancer at a Queens strip club. At left is her court-appointed lawyer, Meghan Maurus. Maurus defended many of the activists arrested during Occupy Wall Street.
One by one the accused appeared before Judge Laura Ward, who listened as public defenders made their cases. Only one young man from the Baruch Houses was released on his own recognizance; the rest had various levels of bail set and were remanded back into custody.
Four of the arrestees from the Baruch Houses gang were also charged under a “Drug Kingpin” statute — operating as a major trafficker — a class A-1 felony.
Many of those arrested also worked in the area. One young woman was a cashier at an Avenue B pharmacy while another man worked at a copy and fax center on Avenue C.
Michael Austin Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Woodstock,” one of the four alleged ringleaders, is a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Assistant District Attorney Michelle Warren noted that Rodriguez drove a Mercedes sedan. But his court-appointed lawyer countered that it was a low-end Mercedes “C” model and that Rodriguez had put $3,500 down on eventually buying the car.
Rodriguez’s attorney asked for reasonable bail, noting it had been five years since his client’s last encounter with the criminal-justice system. At that, Judge Ward paused, looking closer at Rodriguez before saying, “I remember you.” She then recounted Rodriguez’s arrest on a drug charge five years earlier and how she had sent him to Daytop Village for drug-abuse treatment.
As the first of the arraignments were being held in court, just blocks away at Police Headquarters, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced details of the takedown.
“Residents of Manhattan today can get nearly everything delivered to their doorstep, from dinner to dry cleaning and even cocaine,” Vance told a roomful of reporters. “They [the arrestees] made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from this service at the same time they were living in city-subsidized housing as NYCHA residents.”
As the arraignments continued into Monday, Judge Edward McLaughlin paused the proceedings at one point to compliment A.D.A. Warren on the thoroughness of detailing the offenses.
“Parenthetically, the list of overt acts at the back of the indictment is particularly helpful,” he told the prosecutor. “It’s something I’ve never seen before.”