Leader of drug delivery service responsible for three fentanyl poisoning deaths convicted


Date: January 30, 2023

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the conviction in Manhattan federal court of Billy Ortega, a/k/a "Jason," for distributing the fentanyl that killed three young New York City professionals: Julia Ghahramani, Amanda Scher, and Ross Mtangi. The jury convicted Ortega following a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: "Billy Ortega ran a drug delivery service that delivered fentanyl, killing three victims on a single day. Worse yet, Ortega was fully aware that a customer had previously overdosed from the deadly fentanyl Ortega laced into his product, yet continued sending the drugs to his victims. As a unanimous jury determined, Ortega will now be held accountable for the victims' tragic and untimely deaths. This case exemplifies that the national fentanyl epidemic continues to claim lives and inflict havoc on families from all walks of life. Drug dealers don't label their drugs as poison, they just sell them with indifference to the tragedy left in their wake. Combatting the fentanyl epidemic in our communities is one of my Office's top priorities."

According to the allegations in the Indictment and the evidence presented at trial:

From at least in or about 2015 to at least in or about February 2022, Billy Ortega was the leader of a narcotics delivery service in the New York City area that principally distributed cocaine. Ortega used his mother's apartment in Manhattan as his stash house, employing family members and close friends to manage his drugs and cash and to deliver his drugs to customers. In order to protect his drug business, Ortega supplied the guns that were kept at the stash house. Over a span of years, Ortega ran his drug delivery service over text message, acting as the central contact who, like a dispatcher, coordinated drug deliveries by texting his couriers and his customers.

In the course of a single day – March 17, 2021 – Ortega delivered, through one of his couriers, fentanyl-laced cocaine to Ghahramani, Mtangi, and Scher at three separate locations in Manhattan. All three victims died after consuming the drugs distributed by Ortega.

On the day of the three poisonings – and prior to the fentanyl being delivered to any of the three victims – Ortega received the following text message from a different customer warning Ortega that his drugs had almost killed someone else. Specifically, at approximately 2:29 p.m. on March 17, 2021, that other customer sent Ortega the following text message: "Hey man. Just on a follow up from yesterday - I gave most of my last bag to my buddy and he just called me this second to say he ended up in hospital last night. [. . .] He had to get a Narcan shot and was released in the early hours."[1] Ortega read this text message prior to coordinating the three deliveries of the drugs, from the same fentanyl-tainted batch of cocaine, that killed the three victims in this case.

Later that night on March 17, 2021, after the victims had stopped responding to Ortega's text messages, Ortega offered the fentanyl-tainted batch of cocaine to another drug dealer so he could test it out on "some girls." Specifically, at approximately 10:25 p.m. on March 17, 2021, Ortega texted the drug dealer: "If you['re] going to be around way let me know have some every one is saying it's to[o] Strong . . . Give it to some girls and you let me know lol bro."

Billy Ortega, of West Milford, New Jersey, 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. The charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The statutory minimum and maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"), the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces ("OCDETF") New York Strike Force, and the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area ("HIDTA") Intelligence Analysts for their support and assistance in this matter.

This investigation was conducted by the OCDETF New York Strike Force in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration's ("DEA") law enforcement partners. The OCDETF New York Strike Force comprises federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies supported by OCDETF and the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The Strike Force is affiliated with the DEA's New York Division and includes agents and officers of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, DEA, NYPD, New York State Police, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, New York National Guard, Clarkstown Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Washington Police Department, and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

This case is being handled by the Office's Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Micah F. Fergenson, Michael R. Herman, and Robert B. Sobelman, with the assistance of Analyst Kelsey Opozda and Paralegal Specialists Alex Frenchman and Christine Woods, are in charge of the prosecution.