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Press Release

Federal Jury Convicts Ramona Man for Heroin Distribution Resulting in Death

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California


SAN DIEGO – Maxwell Joseph Gaffney, aged 25, of Ramona, California, was convicted by a federal jury late yesterday of distributing the heroin that resulted in the death of Kyle J. Rodriguez, who was 23 years old when he overdosed.   The verdict, delivered after two hours of jury deliberations, followed a week-long trial before U.S. District Judge Michael M. Anello.  

            Evidence at trial revealed that on February 17, 2017, after months of sobriety confirmed by regular random drug screenings,  Rodriguez was found by his girlfriend collapsed in the bathroom of his parents’ Ramona home, surrounded by burned aluminum foil, a plastic straw and lighter.  These were familiar signs of Rodriguez’s former life wrestling with substance use disorder.  But in February 2017, Rodriguez had made positive inroads: he had a full-time job in construction, a girlfriend he was considering marrying, and a rekindled relationship with his father that was formerly splintered by his prior heroin use. When he was found, Rodriguez’s mother, a former cardiac nurse, immediately performed CPR to resuscitate her son.  Her efforts and the subsequent efforts of paramedics failed.  At 3:03 a.m. that morning, Kyle Rodriguez was gone.

            Authorities charged Gaffney after an investigation revealed text messages that established the following: Gaffney had supplied heroin to Rodriguez hours before his collapse; Gaffney had directed Rodriguez to put the money for the heroin into Gaffney’s mailbox; and Rodriguez’s blood contained heroin metabolites at the time of his death.  At trial, the defense contended that Rodriguez had another source of heroin supply and that the heroin in Rodriguez’s blood was not the heroin supplied by Gaffney.  Further, the defense contended that Rodriguez’s alcohol consumption prior to and during the concert he attended the evening of his death, which resulted in a blood alcohol level of .12, and a combination of other factors, including but not limited to heroin, caused his death. 

            Both the San Diego Deputy Medical Examiner, Dr. Abubakr Marzouk, and a Board Certified Medical Toxicologist/Emergency Medicine doctor testified for the United States that the actual cause of Rodriguez’s death was the heroin and that, but for his use of heroin, Rodriguez would not have died.  In explaining the difference between the impact of the heroin and the alcohol consumed by Rodriguez, the United States’s expert likened the heroin to a “shotgun blast to the heart” and the alcohol to a “pin-prick.”  As to the source of the heroin, the email exchange between Gaffney and Rodriguez showed that Gaffney supplied Rodriguez with approximately a half of a gram plus “a little extra B” -- black tar heroin.  Neither a search of Rodriguez’s cellular telephone nor other evidence introduced at trial revealed any another consummated heroin transaction by Rodriguez with any other supplier near the time of Rodriguez’s death.   

            “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will zealously work to hold dealers accountable for overdose deaths that result from their actions,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. “These purveyors of poisons are killing our citizens and tearing apart the fabric of our families.  We must continue to combat the opioid crisis by every possible means at our disposal.”   

“The results in this case are a testament to the collaborative efforts of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Lt. Ken Jones of the Sheriff's Ramona Substation.  “This is a significant victory as we partner to fight the opioid crisis in our community."

            Gaffney is set to be sentenced on September 23, 2019 before Judge Anello.  This case was handled in court by Assistant United States Attorneys Timothy Coughlin and Larry Casper.

DEFENDANT                                    Case Number 17-cr-3330-MMA                                                    

Maxwell Joseph Gaffney                    Age: 25                       Ramona, California


Distribution of Heroin Resulting in Death – Title 21 U.S.C. Section 841(b)(1)(C)

Maximum Penalty – Mandatory Minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life


San Diego Sheriff’s Department

San Diego Sheriff’s Department Regional Crime Lab

San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office

San Diego District Attorney’s Office

United States Attorney’s Office


Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Coughlin (619) 546-6768 and Larry Casper (619) 546-6734

Updated June 25, 2019

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS19-0625-Gaffney