Director of Bronx anti-gun violence org busted for drug trafficking scheme, gun possession

Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler announces the arrest of 15 people for a drug trafficking scheme upstate, including the director of the Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence program Michael Rodriguez, at a press conference in Middletown on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler announces the arrest of 15 people for a drug trafficking scheme upstate, including the director of the Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence program Michael Rodriguez, at a press conference in Middletown on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
Screenshot courtesy Orange County Sheriff’s Office Facebook

Investigators found that Bronx anti-gun violence activist Michael Rodriguez was hiding “in plain sight” when they seized illegal guns and drugs from his Yonkers apartment.

Orange County New York law enforcement officials announced the arrests of 15 people for an alleged interstate drug trafficking conspiracy on Tuesday. Said to be the main supplier of the drug network was 48-year-old Michael Rodriguez — a Yonkers resident and the director of the nonprofit Good Shepherd Services’ program Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence, known as B.R.A.G.

The Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said that Rodriguez could now face 12.5-25 years on conspiracy charges, and up to 24 years for cocaine possession. He was booked at Orange County Jail without bail last Thursday, where he remains.

In a press conference from Middletown, New York on Tuesday, Hoovler and Orange County police officers detailed the nearly two-year investigation — an undercover effort dubbed “Operation Hide in Plain Sight” — that led to Rodriguez’s arrest, as well as 14 others. 

The original target was an Orange County resident by the name of Angelica Rodriguez — no relation to Michael Rodriguez — who investigators said was an alleged big-time narcotic supplier in Middletown from the time she was 15 years old. Law enforcement tapped Angelica Rodriguez’s phone, they said, which led them to her many associates — including Michael Rodriguez, the alleged main supplier.

Hoovler said cops seized more than $165,000 in cash, two guns one with a defaced serial number — and more than 1.5 kilos of cocaine along with other paraphernalia from Michael Rodriguez’s residence in the Getty Square section of Yonkers.

Michael Rodriguez was charged with first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (cocaine), second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree conspiracy, according to the criminal complaint. The conspiracy charges center on his alleged role in supplying narcotics to others, who would sell them.

The DA noted that Michael Rodriguez’s line of work made his arrest a let down all the more.

“The very guy that we have that’s supposed to be stopping gun violence in one jurisdiction, in New York City, is poisoning our jurisdiction up here,” Hoovler said. “It’s kind of ironic that it’s ‘Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence’ — he had two guns.”

According to the Middletown police chief, Michael Rodriguez is a four-time felon. In 1999, he was convicted in Orange County Court for third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, according to the complaint.

Hoovler emphasized that drugs in this case pose a particular threat to the public, as many are laced with the highly addictive opioid fentanyl. He said in Orange County alone between 2017 and 2022, more than 100 people fatally overdosed each year — with 99% of those deaths fentanyl-related.

According to a report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last year, the Bronx had the third-highest drug overdose rate among each of New York’s 62 counties from 2010-2020. And the swell over the decade-long period — which increased from 8.7% in 2010 to 38.7% in 2020 — was largely due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, state officials believe.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark told the Bronx Times in a statement that the charges were “shocking.”

“The allegations of drug trafficking and gun possession against Michael Rodriguez are shocking and disturbing, especially since he has attended anti-violence events and peace marches portraying himself as someone who cares about stopping the violence in our community,” said Clark, who won’t have any involvement in the case since Rodriguez was indicted upstate. “These charges are the exact opposite of the good work cure violence groups are doing.”

Good Shepherd Services is a New York City-based organization that aims to create programs and provide resources to youth and families in struggling neighborhoods across the Big Apple. The nonprofit’s anti-violence B.R.A.G. program focuses on promoting safer streets. Members of the group familiar with communities at high risk of gun violence – called “credible messengers” –  monitor hot spots in the Bronx and attempt to de-escalate potential violence through conflict mediation. The group also provides services to the loved ones of gun violence victims.

“We are aware of this investigation and the charges that have been made,” a B.R.A.G. and Good Shepherd Services spokesperson told the Bronx Times. “While we work to learn more, our primary focus remains on the communities we serve and our programs that are helping to keep them safe.”

B.R.A.G. is a well-known program not just in the Bronx but throughout the city, partially because of its involvement with New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ “Blueprint to End Gun Violence” — a plan of action to get guns off the street and protect communities.

In last year’s blueprint, released in January 2022, B.R.A.G. was listed as a “community partner” of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Mayor’s Office of Community and Mental Health.

Earlier this week Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced another rendition of the plan to end gun violence, to which $479 million in city funding and $6 million in state funding will be allocated, though B.R.A.G. is not listed in the new blueprint, according to the mayor’s office.

“Although this defendant is not employed by the city, we find the allegations in this case very troubling and not representative of the outstanding work being done by violence interrupters in our communities,” a City Hall spokesperson told the Bronx Times. “As outlined in the Blueprint for Community Safety announced this week, we will continue a holistic approach to neighborhood safety, including the courageous ‘boots on the ground’ prevention work being done by violence interrupters to help make New York a safer city for all.”

The mayor’s office emphasized that Michael Rodriguez’s alleged actions do not reflect the actions of Good Shepherd Services or the city.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson told the Bronx Times that the allegations are “deeply disturbing and troublesome if found to be true.”

“It goes against everything we are fighting for as a community and as a borough,” she said. “We will await further information from the investigation.”

Organizations fighting gun violence in the Bronx have their work cut out for them. 

According to the mayor’s office’s most recent blueprint, 25% of all shootings in the city occur within just six police precincts — four of which are in the Bronx. The 40th, 42nd, 44th and 47th precincts were identified in the report — along with the 73rd and 75th precincts in Brooklyn — as neighborhoods where homicide is the leading cause of death. 

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