Drug dealer convicted in deaths of 3 New Yorkers on same day

The charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

January 31, 2023, 1:08 PM

Amanda Scher, Ross Mtangi and Julia Ghahramani were three working professionals in New York City who did not know each other but shared a deadly commonality: on the same day in March 2021, they each ordered cocaine from Billy Ortega that killed them.

Ortega, 35, of New Jersey, has now been convicted of federal charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

On March 17, 2021, Ortega sold the three professionals -- a social worker, a banker and a lawyer -- cocaine laced with fentanyl. Prosecutors said he knew the drugs he was selling were potentially deadly because a different customer had sent him a text: "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."

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, according to evidence presented during the two-week trial in Manhattan federal court.

"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," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. "Drug dealers don't label their drugs as poison, they just sell them with indifference to the tragedy left in their wake."

Williams said the case is but one example of the national fentanyl epidemic that unyieldingly claims lives and inflicts havoc on families from all walks of American life.

Ortega led a cocaine delivery service from 2015 until his arrest in 2022 using his mother's Manhattan apartment as a stash house. Family and friends handled orders and deliveries, and Ortega kept guns to protect his business. Prosecutors described him as a dispatcher who coordinated drug deliveries by text message.

On the night of March 17, 2021, after the three victims had stopped responding to Ortega's messages, Ortega offered the fentanyl-tainted batch of cocaine to another drug dealer so he could test it out on "some girls."

At 10:25 p.m. he 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."