(NewsNation) — When people talk about the drug epidemic in America, they might refer to it as a crisis of addiction, a crisis of opioids or a crisis at the border.
To Sassan Ghahramani, it’s a crisis of murder.
“They don’t talk about what happens between when the cartels send (drugs) here and then when somebody laces it and sends it to unsuspecting people,” said Ghahramani, one of the countless U.S. parents who have lost a child to a fentanyl overdose.
The drug has wreaked havoc on cities across the country over the last few years and was responsible for more than 71,000 overdoses in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More more than 50.6 million pills were seized in 2022, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Ghahramani’s daughter, Julia, died in March 2021 when she ingested fentanyl-laced cocaine. The then-26-year-old Columbia Law School graduate was just beginning her career as a lawyer in New York City.
“This was a shock,” Ghahramani said of his daughter’s death. “She would not have touched in a million years anything (with fentanyl).”
Two other people who received drugs supplied by the same man March 17, 2021, also died. Billy Ortega, the 35-year-old New Jersey man accused of dealing the drugs, was convicted Monday of selling the cocaine that killed Ghahramani, Ross Mtangi, a banker, and Amanda Scher, a social worker.
Prosecutors said Ortega ran a drug delivery service from 2015 to 2022 and used his mother’s apartment in Manhattan as a stash house. He acted like a “dispatcher” who coordinated drug deliveries via text messages with couriers and customers.
During his trial, prosecutors showed some of those texts, including one from another customer that warned about the lethality of what Ortega was selling.
“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,” the customer wrote to Ortega.
Later, Ortega offered the fentanyl-tainted batch of cocaine to another 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,” Ortega wrote.
He 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.
“This case exemplifies that the national fentanyl epidemic continues to claim lives and inflict havoc on families from all walks of life,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Drug dealers don’t label their drugs as poison, they just sell them with indifference to the tragedy left in their wake.”
Julia Ghahramani graduated from Columbia Law School in December 2020 and was working at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, according to her obituary. She was described as a “vivacious, fun” young woman who “had a heart that was so large and deep with empathy it would always seek to protect the underdog and reach out to those in need.”
One of her heroes was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom she met during a trip to Washington, D.C., when she was in law school. The selfie she took on the steps of the building is one of her father’s favorites.
“Julia had everything to live for, and she had a mind that was brilliant at the speed of light,” Ghahramani said. “She was a warrior for justice, and the greatest injustice was done to her.”