Drug dealer sentenced to 30 years in overdose deaths of three New Yorkers


(NEW YORK) — The leader of a drug delivery service who was convicted earlier this year of distributing the fentanyl-laced cocaine that killed three young New York City professionals on the same day was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in prison.

Billy Ortega, 37, was convicted in January of federal charges for providing the drugs that caused the 2021 overdose deaths of Amanda Scher, Ross Mtangi and Julia Ghahramani. He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The victims’ families appeared in Manhattan federal court as the sentence was handed down.

“My son is gone and my life destroyed because of Ortega’s greed and callousness,” Mtangi’s mother, Lauren Lackey, said in a letter to Judge Ronnie Abrams. “I don’t believe he cares about the destruction he caused or the rippling effects that our families will endure. It could have been prevented. My son was poisoned by fentanyl. That horror sits on my chest and I feel it with every breath.”

Ortega was convicted of one count of narcotics conspiracy resulting in death, three counts of narcotics distribution resulting in death and one count of use and carrying of a firearm in furtherance of the narcotics conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors said he was the leader of a drug trafficking conspiracy, distributing dangerous drugs in the city via a crew of workers for at least seven years. He used friends and family members to run his stash house and delivery operation out of a public housing unit in Manhattan, according to prosecutors.

In March 2021, Ortega mixed fentanyl into a weak batch of cocaine and sold it to at least five customers, who had no idea that they were receiving fentanyl, prosecutors said.

“Ortega knew what he was doing, and bears full responsibility for those deaths. He ‘bagged up’ the deadly batch of drugs himself. He deliberately and personally introduced fentanyl into his cocaine, and then willingly distributed it to his customers,” prosecutors said in asking for a life sentence.

Prosecutors cited what they called the defendant’s callous disregard for human life.

“Worse still, the first customer to use the deadly batch warned Ortega it was poison — that it sent someone to hospital, who had to be revived with emergency anti-opioid medication,” prosecutors said. “Ortega read that first customer’s warning, but went ahead and sold the same poison to four other customers anyway, killing Ghahramani, Scher and Mtangi.”

The defense sought a sentence of no more than 25 years in prison for Ortega — citing, in part, a difficult childhood.

“Billy had a difficult upbringing, his parents were separated and his father was barely in his life,” the defense sentencing memorandum said. “He resided with his mother and grandmother, though his grandmother was his primary caretaker as his mother was in and out of rehab.”

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