A New Jersey man was convicted of causing the deaths of three New Yorkers to whom he sold cocaine laced with fentanyl. Billy Ortega, 36, was found guilty on Monday by a New York federal jury of all charges of supplying the cocaine with fentanyl that killed three professionals in Manhattan in March 2021. Sentencing is scheduled for June 2. Ortega plans to appeal, the Wall Street Journal reports. He was charged with causing the deaths of Ross Mtangi, Julia Ghahramani and Amanda Scher, who ordered cocaine from him on the same day and died of overdoses because the cocaine was laced with toxic doses of fentanyl.
The synthetic opioid has infiltrated the illicit drug supply and pushed overdose deaths to record highs. The deaths of Mtangi, a Wall Street trader, Ghahramani, a first-year lawyer and Scher, a social worker, were among more than 18,000 overdose deaths in 2021 in which people had both cocaine and a synthetic opioid—a category dominated by fentanyl—in their systems. Deaths involving cocaine in New York City surged to 1,261 in 2021 from a few hundred annually a few years ago as fentanyl spread into supplies as a cheap cutting agent, health department data show. Fentanyl was involved in 85 percent of those deaths. Prescribed for patients in severe pain, fentanyl used illicitly can cause users to stop breathing. Prosecutors described Ortega as the leader of a high-end, on demand, delivery company making thousands of dollars a week supplying customers with cocaine, ecstasy and pills.