The Philadelphia connection to a Pittsburgh lawyer who once boasted in his ads that he “thinks like a criminal” — because, as it turned out, he was one — has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for distributing marijuana.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab on Tuesday imposed 48 months on Hector Rodriguez, a 42-year-old father of six who runs a shoe store but admitted to distributing 80 to 100 kilos of pot until an FBI task force dismantled the operation.
His customer in Pittsburgh was Daniel Muessig, 41, a defense attorney who was dealing large amounts of pot out of his Squirrel Hill home. He’s in a federal prison in New Jersey.
Muessig enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame in 2014 when his YouTube ad made headlines around the world. It featured his friends skulking around pretending to be criminals with Muessig then asking: “Need a criminal defense lawyer? Then you should hire a lawyer who thinks like a criminal.”
A federal grand jury in 2021 indicted him and Rodriguez following a 2019 FBI investigation, and he later admitted that he conspired to distribute 100 kilos or more of marijuana using his apartment on Covode Street as a stash house and operations base.
The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force in April 2019 started tapping a phone used by Wilkins drug dealer Chadlin Leavy, who supplied heroin and cocaine for the SCO gang in Braddock. The wiretap showed that Leavy was also dealing marijuana sold to him by another dealer, Jared Eck. Taps revealed that Eck resupplied Leavy every Friday. Before meeting with Leavy, Eck met up with another dealer, Wayne Barker, who operated the stash house with Muessig, to obtain marijuana.
Agents watched Eck and his cohorts hauling big trash bags out of the apartment and putting them into cars. The wiretap revealed that Eck and Leavy were going to meet on May 24, 2019, after Eck met with his supplier. Surveillance showed Muessig carrying backpack and walking into his Covode Street apartment. Wayne Barker then pulled up in a Jeep, walked in with a shopping bag, then walked out to get a vacuum sealer from his vehicle and go back in.
Agents then saw a Dodge Charger pull up with two men inside. One of them was Rodriguez. They went inside the apartment. Wayne and William Barker then came out as a Dodge Ram pulled up. Eric Vanderslice, another drug dealer, was behind the wheel. Several men then unloaded boxes from the Ram and took them inside.
Agents saw Muessig and Rodriguez leaving the apartment carrying big boxes and putting them in the Ram. Vanderslice then drove away.
Law officers later pulled the vehicle over and found $400,000 in the boxes. A search of the apartment turned up boxes of pot, packaging, the vacuum sealer and a money counter. The pot weighed 404 pounds.
In sentencing papers, prosecutors said Rodriguez deserves a substantial sentence not only because of his role in the pot ring but also because of the ring’s connections to the SCO gang, which dealt in harder, more deadly drugs. Prosecutors said that the SCO members financed their heroin, coke and crack trafficking by attracting a larger customer base through the sale of pot.
In that way, prosecutors said, Rodriguez enabled the SCO gang to sell narcotics.
“It is critical to hold all individuals contributing to a widespread drug-trafficking organization responsible,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Silinski.
Rodriguez and his lawyer asked for leniency on the basis of their contention that he was a minimal player in the larger drug conspiracy.
But prosecutors said that’s not true. Without him, they said, the conspiracy would not have succeeded.
They also said his criminal history spans 20 years, with five prior felony drug convictions, and he has re-offended twice before while on court supervision from other cases.
Muessig, meanwhile, is serving five years. He’s not due for release until April 2026.