Julia Ghahramani, Ross Mtangi and Amanda Scher Wiki – Julia Ghahramani, Ross Mtangi and Amanda Scher Bio
Julia Ghahramani, 26, texted the same delivery service on the same day. She also died. She had just started her career remotely at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
Ross Mtangi, a business executive with Credit Suisse Group AG, left his Manhattan penthouse in March 2021 with his laptop, telling his pregnant partner he was going to work.
He checked into a nearby hotel and picked up work calls. Later, he sent a text message asking for cocaine from a drug delivery service. A man in a baseball cap, shoulder bag and face mask appeared on hotel surveillance.
Mtangi, 40, missed a follow-up meeting. His sister and his partner found him dead in the hotel the next day. Police found translucent black bags containing lethal fentanyl mixed with cocaine on a table.
Amanda Scher, 38, did the same. She died in the Greenwich Village apartment she shared with her rescue dog Chihuahua-Corgi. She was a stone’s throw from where she had received her master’s degree from her at New York University.
The three high-achieving New Yorkers had texted the DoorDash-style cocaine delivery service on a Wednesday in late winter. They all died from the illicit fentanyl that had been mixed with it.
Julia Ghahramani, Ross Mtangi and Amanda Scher Age
Julia Ghahramani,26, Ross Mtangi,40, and Amanda Scher,38,
Cause of Death
Fentanyl is a powerful legal opioid, prescribed for cancer patients and others with severe pain. Traffickers have discovered that it is easy and inexpensive to do. The illicit form has spread throughout the illegal drug market, showing up in heroin as well as pills sealed to look like oxycodone or Adderall and other drugs.
Traffickers also convert it into cocaine, a stimulant, to make it more potent and addictive, introducing the drug to unsuspecting buyers. A small amount of fentanyl can kill inexperienced users.
“Hey, try not to do too much because it’s too strong,” read a text message 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 cyanide appearing in an alcoholic beverage during Prohibition.
“Julia was a motivated professional with everything to live for. Not in a billion years would she have touched anything with fentanyl on it,” she said. “This is like putting bullets in people’s brains.”
March 17 in New York City is usually a Saint Patrick’s Day holiday. In 2021, the parade was canceled for the second year and most major company offices were closed. 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 who began her career outside of the workplace. Hers Virtually graduated from Columbia Law School in May 2020 while her parents took photos of her and screened her in her Greenwich, Conn. living room.
The daughter of Iranian-born Mr. Ghahramani, founder of an investment research firm, and Lily Ann Marden, a real estate finance executive, Ms. Ghahramani made a high school commitment to change the world in some way. She helped provide pro bono legal advice to immigrants and advocated for gun control. She spoke on the steps of City Hall as the main organizer of a “March for Our Lives” attended by 150,000 people following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in February 2018.
For much of the pandemic, Ms. Ghahramani has retreated to her family home to work remotely and spend time with her parents and younger twin brothers.
In her last week, Ms. Ghahramani returned to her Avenue B apartment and said that she had work to do before a family trip next weekend to celebrate the Persian New Year. Ms. Ghahramani told friends and family that the workload was intense but that she loved her first job.
On Wednesday, Ms. Ghahramani sent a text message to a phone that prosecutors say belonged to the alleged drug delivery service dispatcher, Billy Ortega.
According to his attorney, Mr. Ortega was a stay-at-home father in a house in rural New Jersey. According to prosecutors, Mr. Ortega organized drug deals from home. He has pleaded not guilty to causing the three deaths and distributing drugs and is awaiting trial.
“Can you come in?” wrote Ms. Ghahramani.
“I’ll send them to you right now if you want.”
“That would be great, thank you, I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t worry, family.”
After receiving the text message, prosecutors said, Ortega asked a courier, Kaylen Rainey, to handle the day’s deliveries. Ortega sent him Ghahramani’s address and instructions to collect $200, prosecutors said, citing text messages on their phones.
Prosecutors said Rainey lived in an apartment registered to Ortega’s family in public housing in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
He and another courier rented Zipcars to deliver drugs to Manhattan neighborhoods, prosecutors alleged, grossing up to thousands of dollars per stop. Mr. Rainey has pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths and distributing drugs and is awaiting trial.
Nine minutes after the text messages, according to police and surveillance footage, Mr. Rainey rang the doorbell of Ms. Ghahramani’s apartment.
About six hours after giving birth, his phone rang.
“Hello you there”
That night and the next morning there were seven calls from the delivery service number.
Mrs. Marden woke up that morning in Connecticut knowing something was wrong because she hadn’t heard from her daughter. A friend of Ms. Ghahramani went to her apartment and found her dead, holding her phone. The Persian pastries she had ordered for the weekend were in the refrigerator.
“He made a mistake,” Ghahramani said. “She took a hit of coke and unbeknownst to her, it was loaded with fentanyl and it killed her.”
Cocaine has long attracted New York City, where in the 1980s it was associated with jet-setting clubbers and elite professionals. Estimates of use in the city remain higher than the national rate of about 2% of Americans taking the drug annually for the past two decades.
The addition of fentanyl to supplies in the past decade has tripled the annual death toll for New Yorkers. Of 980 cocaine deaths in 2020, 81% involved fentanyl, according to the most recent data from the New York City health department. The number of people dying from cocaine alone has held steady at a few hundred.
Drug use in general increased during the pandemic, derailing work routines and social life. Fentanyl helped increase total drug deaths. Deaths hit a yearly high of 107,521 people in 2021, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up 51% from 2019. Three-quarters of the 2021 deaths involved fentanyl, the CDC said.
Authorities in New York City have been warning of the risks of unknowingly taking fentanyl into cocaine and of its increased presence in cocaine seized by police. Health officials put up signs and sent drink coasters to clubs warning cocaine users to start with a small dose and to have naloxone, an opioid-reversing drug, on hand to counter an overdose. They are handing out fentanyl test strips that can be used to test for the presence of fentanyl in cocaine and other drugs.
Multiple people died within hours from contaminated cocaine on Long Island, New York, and in Newport Beach, California, last year. Nine were killed in Washington, D.C., in January. Law enforcement officials said traffickers often use coffee grinders or other basic equipment to cut the drugs and prepare them for sale, which can result in deadly batches.
Amanda Scher texted her request just before 5 p.m. that Wednesday. During the pandemic, she commuted by subway to work with cancer patients at a network of Bronx hospitals, Montefiore Health System. At first, she sent her parents a photo of refrigerated trucks storing Covid victims.
“She didn’t complain about it. That’s what her commitment to her profession required,” said her father, Bruce Scher, who with his wife, Fran, raised Ms. Scher and a younger brother on Long Island. Ms. Scher made easy connections and adored her elderly rescue dog, Ziva, her parents said. One of her friends later said that when Mrs. Scher walked Ziva, six people stopped to say hello.
The streets of Greenwich Village have emptied in the pandemic. Mrs. Scher’s roommate left town. To combat isolation, Ms. Scher began counseling private patients online in the evenings. “Being home alone, I think that affected her,” her father said.
On that day in March, Ms. Scher sent a text message to a number stored on her phone as “Jason Melissa.” Prosecutors said Ortega sometimes used the name Jason.
“Ask first,” Scher wrote.
“Is it the same as it was on Sunday? Because that wasn’t good lol, I had to get rid of it.”
“No new…batch,” was the reply.
Mr. Rainey appeared on a video camera near her apartment.
“Definitely better,” Ms. Scher texted about two hours after the delivery.
She counseled a patient online from 8 p.m. to around 9 p.m. that night, according to a calendar on her desk. She sat on the sofa and turned on the television.
Text messages from the delivery service number arrived:
“Hey, try not to do too much because it’s too strong”
“Hey, boss, you heard”
Three FaceTime audio calls to her phone went unanswered. A text message the next morning:
“Hey, can you call me back? I need to ask you something real quick.”
Mrs. Scher’s dog walker found her dead on the couch that day.
Prosecutors said text messages and calls to Ms. Ghahramani and Ms. Scher after the deliveries showed a guilty conscience that something was wrong with the drugs.
The day after the deliveries, Mr. Rainey sent Ortega screenshots of the home drug testing kits, and Mr. Ortega switched to a different phone to take the drug orders, prosecutors alleged. They said the men continued to sell drugs until they were arrested.
An attorney for Mr. Rainey declined to comment; one for Mr. Ortega did not respond to requests for comment.
In his 29th-floor penthouse on the East 30s overlooking Manhattan, Mtangi was stressed from work. He had been holed up in his house instead of on the floor for most of the pandemic.
Mr. Mtangi’s Irish-Italian American mother, Lauren Lackey, raised him and a younger sister in subsidized housing in East Providence, Rhode Island. His mother had met his father, Stanlake Mtangi, a Zimbabwean-born chemist, at a Newport nightclub in the late 1970s, and Mr. Mtangi became closer to him as an adult.
Mr. Mtangi went to Harvard University and was drawn to the high stakes of Wall Street. He traded derivatives for JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America, and at Credit Suisse he ran a group that handled complex trades in corporate shares and stock indices.
He was athletic, running 5 miles through Manhattan or riding his bike to visit his sister in Brooklyn. Humor and a calm demeanor propelled Mtangi across social and racial divides, people close to him said. He played casual basketball on city courts and was nodded to by bouncers at exclusive clubs in the Meatpacking District.
The trader’s prowess was on display in a roughly $100 million profit Mr. Mtangi and his team made for Bank of America from a brief spike in volatility shortly before he left for Credit Suisse, according to former colleagues and a media report at the time.
Impending fatherhood presented a new path. On his 40th birthday, his partner took a photo of him holding a cake, shirtless and tattooed, with a view of Manhattan behind him.
In his last week, Mr. Mtangi put his computer in a bag in his apartment and told his partner that he would come to the office.
It was Tuesday, she checked into a hotel down the street and stayed there overnight, and the next morning she texted her partner and other family members to say she was fine but needed some alone time.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rainey, the suspected drug courier, showed up on hotel surveillance and stopped to check his phone.
Mr. Mtangi was on a call that night with his boss, Michael Ebert. He didn’t make a follow-up call later that night.
Mr. Mtangi’s partner called his family the next morning, and Mr. Ebert separately contacted his sister to tell her that she was trying to contact him. The credit card charge at the hotel finally tracked him down.
Mr. Mtangi’s sister and her partner rushed to the hotel, where he was dead. Her son was born three weeks later.