The death of a junior lawyer in her first year at Akin Gump has brought renewed attention to the risk of using illegal drug delivery services.
26-year-old Julia Ghahramani died after consuming cocaine which had secretly been mixed with a deadly amount of fentanyl.
In the week before her death in March 2021, Ghahramani told friends and family her workload at the US firm was intense, but that she was loving her first job. She had recently qualified and was working remotely from her apartment in New York’s East Village neighbourhood.
The following Wednesday the litigation associate texted "Can u come thru?" to a drug delivery service. "I’ll send them right now if you want", replied Billy Ortega, the alleged dealer. "That would be great thank you really appreciate it", said the lawyer. "No worries we family", Ortega answered.
Ortega allegedly despatched a courier in a Zipcar to Ghahramani’s address with instructions to collect $200. But the cocaine delivered to Ghahramani had been mixed with fentanyl, a powerful legal opioid prescribed as a pain killer. The stimulant, which is easy and cheap for traffickers to manufacture, can be cut into cocaine to increase its potency and addictiveness.
Around six hours after the delivery Ortega texted her, "Hey", and, "Hey you there". The next day, a friend found her dead in her apartment still holding her phone, which displayed seven missed calls from the drug delivery number. It transpired that within the space of 24 hours the same batch of spiked coke had also killed a trader and a social worker.
"She made a mistake", her father told The Wall Street Journal in its report on the circumstances of Ghahramani's death. "She had a hit of coke and unbeknownst to her it was loaded with fentanyl and it killed her".
He compared the presence of fentanyl in cocaine to dropping cyanide 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".
Ghahramani was a passionate advocate for human rights who, before she joined Akin Gump, acted as the Deputy Director for the 2018 March For Our Lives rally in New York City protesting for "common sense gun regulations". Friends and family founded The Julia Ghahramani Foundation with the mission of upholding her beliefs by supporting charities and student-led organisations "dedicated to social justice issues" such as gun control, homelessness, and refugee rights, while Akin Gump has established the Julia Ghahramani Immigration Advocacy Award "to honor a member of the Akin Gump community who strongly advocated for immigrants".