Monday, October 24, 2022

Three New Yorkers Ordered Cocaine From the Same Delivery Service. All Died From Fentanyl.

I don't do this stuff. I didn't even know coke was popular these days. And you can order it from a delivery service? Hmm.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Cocaine, long popular among New York professionals, is now often tainted with fentanyl, catching users unprepared and driving drug fatalities":

NEW YORK—Ross Mtangi, a trading executive at Credit Suisse Group AG, left his Manhattan penthouse in March 2021 with his laptop and told his pregnant partner he was going to work.

He checked into a nearby hotel and tuned in to work calls. Later, he texted for cocaine from a drug delivery service. A man wearing a baseball cap, cross-body bag and face mask appeared on hotel surveillance.

Mr. Mtangi, 40 years old, missed a follow up meeting. His sister and her partner found him dead at the hotel the next day. Police found on a table translucent black baggies that contained lethal fentanyl mixed in with the cocaine.

In the East Village, first-year lawyer Julia Ghahramani, 26, texted the same delivery service the same day. She also died. She had just started her career remotely at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Social worker Amanda Scher, 38, did the same. She died in the Greenwich Village apartment she shared with her Chihuahua-Corgi rescue dog. It was a stone’s throw from where she had received her master’s degree at New York University.

The three high-achieving New Yorkers had texted the DoorDash-style cocaine delivery service on a late winter Wednesday. They all died from the illicit fentanyl that had been mixed into it.

Fentanyl is a powerful legal opioid, prescribed for cancer patients and others with severe pain. Traffickers have found it is easy and inexpensive to make. The illicit form has spread throughout the illegal drug market, turning up in heroin as well as pills stamped out to look like oxycodone or Adderall and other drugs.

Dealers also cut it into cocaine, a stimulant, to be more potent and addictive, introducing the drug to unsuspecting buyers. A tiny amount of fentanyl can kill unseasoned users.

“Hey try not to do too much because it’s really strong,” read a text sent to Ms. Scher later that night from the delivery number. Ms. Ghahramani missed seven calls from the number.

Sassan Ghahramani, Ms. Ghahramani’s father, said the fentanyl in his daughter’s cocaine was like having cyanide appear in an alcoholic drink during Prohibition.

“Julia was a driven professional with everything to live for. Never in a billion years would she have touched anything with fentanyl,” he said. “This is like putting bullets in people’s brains.”

Can u come thru?

March 17 in New York City is usually festive for St. Patrick’s Day. In 2021, the parade was canceled for a second year and most big company offices were shut. Only around 30% of adults in the city had received at least a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

In the East Village, Ms. Ghahramani, the litigation associate, was one of millions of young Americans starting their career outside of a workplace. She had graduated virtually from Columbia Law School in May 2020 while her parents snapped photos of her and the screen in their Greenwich, Conn., living room.

The daughter of Iranian-born Mr. Ghahramani, an investment research firm founder, and Lily Ann Marden, a real estate finance executive, Ms. Ghahramani made a vow in high school to somehow change the world. She helped give pro bono legal advice to immigrants and advocated for gun control. She spoke on the steps of City Hall as a main organizer of a “March for Our Lives” attended by 150,000 following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in February 2018.

For much of the pandemic, Ms. Ghahramani retreated to her family’s home to work remotely and spend time with her parents and younger twin siblings.

Her final week, Ms. Ghahramani headed back to her Avenue B apartment, saying she had work to do before a family trip the next weekend to celebrate the Persian new year. Ms. Ghahramani told friends and family the workload was intense but that she was loving her first job.

On Wednesday, Ms. Ghahramani sent a text to a phone that prosecutors said belonged to the alleged dispatcher for the drug delivery service, Billy Ortega.

According to his lawyer, Mr. Ortega was a stay-at-home dad in a house in rural New Jersey. According to prosecutors, Mr. Ortega arranged drug deals from the house. He pleaded not guilty to causing the three deaths and distributing drugs and is awaiting trial.

“Can u come thru?,” Ms. Ghahramani wrote.

“I’ll send them right now if you want.”

“That would be great thank you really appreciate it.”

“No worries we family.”

After getting the text, prosecutors said, Mr. Ortega asked a courier, Kaylen Rainey, to handle the day’s deliveries. Mr. Ortega sent him Ms. Ghahramani’s address and instructions to collect $200, prosecutors said, citing texts on their phones.

Prosecutors said Mr. Rainey lived in an apartment registered to Mr. Ortega’s family in public housing in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

He and another courier rented Zipcars to deliver drugs to neighborhoods across Manhattan, prosecutors alleged, collecting up to thousands of dollars a stop. Mr. Rainey pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths and distributing drugs and is awaiting trial.

Nine minutes after the texts, according to police and surveillance footage, Mr. Rainey buzzed Ms. Ghahramani’s apartment bell.

Around six hours after the delivery, her phone pinged.

“Hey” “Hey you there”

Seven calls came in that night and the next morning from the delivery-service number.

Ms. Marden woke that morning in Connecticut knowing something was wrong because she hadn’t heard from her daughter. A friend of Ms. Ghahramani went to the apartment and found her dead, holding her phone. Persian pastries she had ordered for the weekend were in the refrigerator.

“She made a mistake,” Mr. Ghahramani said. “She had a hit of coke and unbeknownst to her it was loaded with fentanyl and it killed her.”

Derailed lives

Cocaine has long had allure in New York City, where in the 1980s it became associated with jet setting clubbers and elite professionals. Usage estimates in the city remain higher than the roughly 2% national rate of Americans taking the drug annually for the past two decades.

The addition of fentanyl into supplies in the past decade has tripled the yearly number of New Yorkers dying. Of 980 cocaine deaths in 2020, 81% involved fentanyl, according to the most recent New York City health department data. The number of people dying from cocaine alone has held steady in the low hundreds.

Drug use overall rose during the pandemic, which derailed work routines and social lives. Fentanyl helped drive total drug fatalities higher. Deaths hit an annual high of 107,521 people in 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up 51% since 2019. Three-quarters of the 2021 deaths involved fentanyl, the CDC said.

New York City authorities have been warning of the risks of unknowingly taking fentanyl in cocaine and of its increased presence in cocaine seized by police. Health officials put up posters and sent drink coasters to clubs warning cocaine users to start with a small dose and to have naloxone, an opioid reversal drug, on hand to counter an overdose. They are handing out fentanyl testing strips that can be used to test cocaine and other drugs for fentanyl’s presence.

Multiple people died within hours from tainted cocaine in Long Island, N.Y., and in Newport Beach, Calif., last year. Nine were killed in Washington, D.C., in January. Law-enforcement officials said dealers often use coffee grinders or other basic equipment to cut drugs and prepare them for sale, which can result in deadly batches...