Fentanyl poisoning: 3 fatal doses in same night

Dan Krauth Image
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Fentanyl poisoning: 3 fatal doses in same night
In one day in NYC, three young professionals died after buying and ingesting drugs laced with fentanyl from drug dealer Billy Ortega. Dan Krauth has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In one day in New York City, three young professionals died after buying and ingesting drugs from the same dealer.

"I don't want other parents to have to go through this," said mother Fran Scher.

It was three fatal doses of what the victims thought was cocaine. It turns out, it was cocaine laced with fentanyl, a highly addictive and deadly man made opioid. Even a tiny amount can be deadly and it's killing people in record numbers.

Victims from left to right: Julia Ghahramani, Ross Mtangi, Amanda Scher.

Every three hours someone dies of drugs in New York City alone. Most of those deaths are fentanyl-related.

"It's just a horror story and we have to be more aware of it," said Scher, whose daughter Amanda was one of the three victims.

Their deaths weren't overdoses. The victims were poisoned.

"My daughter didn't die from a drug overdose, my daughter was murdered," said Sassan Ghahramani.

Twenty-six-year-old lawyer Julia Ghahramani, banker and soon-to-be father Ross Mtangi and social worker Amanda Scher didn't know each other in life, but their families are helping each other cope with their deaths.

"There doesn't seem to be enough urgency or fear and I think that these stories need to be told," said Bruce Scher, whose daughter Amanda died.

Back on March 17 2021, police said the three victims texted the same drug dealer, Billy Ortega, asking for cocaine. His deliveryman was captured on surveillance cameras delivering the drugs to each one of their places in New York City that day. All three victims died a short time later.

Surveillance video shows a drug courier delivering the fatal doses on March 17th, 2021.

They didn't know it at the time, but it wasn't just cocaine they were ingesting. It was laced with fentanyl. Drug dealers are adding it to a variety of drugs because it's cheap and highly addictive. However just two milligrams can be deadly.

"What Amanda actually had, we're told, was almost all fentanyl," said her mother Fran.

Charging drug dealers in death cases is rare. Prosecutors have to prove the dealer knew what was inside the drugs. In these cases, there's digital proof.

Before the drugs were delivered to the three victims, police say Ortega received a text from another client -- a warning.

The text read, "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..." and the text went on to state, "He had to get a Narcan shot."'

Again, that's before the drugs were delivered to the three victims.

"That's nine minutes before he told his delivery guy to bring the drugs to Julia," said mother Lily Ann Ghahramani. "He knew 100% that this could kill her."

Police said the same batch of drugs was then dropped off at Mtangi's New York City hotel room and then to the apartment of Amanda Scher.

The dealer continued to call and text them repeatedly. At one point, Ortega texted Amanda Scher after the drugs were delivered and said, "Hey try not to do too much because it's really strong."

Amanda never responded. It was too late.

Police said it didn't stop Ortega. After the deaths, he then sent a text to sell the drugs to another dealer.

"After he killed three people, he texted another drug dealer and said 'oh yeah, I have a batch that people are saying is too strong, why don't you take it and give it to some girls and see what happens, lol,'" said Sassan. "He doesn't care, he didn't care and he kept dealing."

The parents of Ghahramani and Scher said people have to change the way they talk and think about fentanyl-related deaths moving forward.

"Overdose is the wrong word for what happened to Julia and to Ross and Amanda," said Lily Ann. "They bought cocaine, they thought they had cocaine and it's wasn't, it was fentanyl," she said. "Of course, as a mother, I would say never do that, but she did and that doesn't mean she deserved to be murdered."

How the victims died is not how their families want them to be remembered. But they hope their deaths help prevent similar tragedies from happening to other families.

"I hope people listen because this is real and this is real, awful, never ending pain," said Lily Ann.

Billy Ortega was convicted in federal court after a two-week trial and will be sentenced this spring. He faces between 25 years and life in prison.

The family of Ross Mtangi did not want to speak on camera about their loss.

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