ABOVE PHOTO: Michael K. Williams (Editorial credit: Photo Works / Shutterstock.com)
By Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK — Four men face charges that they were members of the drug distribution crew that supplied a deadly mix of narcotics to Michael K. Williams, the renowned actor from “The Wire” who overdosed just hours after buying fentanyl-laced heroin in a deal recorded on security camera video.
The man seen on camera handing Williams the drugs on a Brooklyn sidewalk, Irvin Cartagena, was charged with directly causing the actor’s death, authorities said.
Williams’ death was investigated by the New York City police department, but the charges were brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who revealed that the suspects had been under surveillance even before the actor’s fatal overdose last September.
It was a sting that bore a striking resemblance to the kind depicted on “The Wire,” where Williams gained fame playing the bandit Omar Little.
For months, a paid informant working for the NYPD had been making controlled buys of heroin on the same block where Williams purchased his drugs. An undercover police officer made one buy just days before the actor copped his fatal dose, court papers said.
The vials of drugs found with Williams when his body was discovered on Sept. 6 bore the same label, “AAA Insurance,” as the vials purchased by the officer.
The day after the actor’s death, the NYPD’s informant went back to buy more drugs from the same group, recording a conversation in which some members of the crew talked about Williams’ overdose. One denied selling any drugs containing fentanyl.
Cartagena and the three other men in the case were arrested Tuesday. Three made initial appearances Wednesday in Manhattan federal court. Cartagena’s initial court appearance is scheduled for Thursday in Puerto Rico, where he was arrested.
It was not immediately clear who would represent him or who could comment on his behalf.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, who announced the charges with New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, called overdose deaths a “public health crisis.”
“And it has to stop. Deadly opioids like fentanyl and heroin don’t care about who you are or what you’ve accomplished. They just feed addiction and lead to tragedy,” Williams said.
Sewell said police detectives in Brooklyn “lived this case, never relenting in their investigation until they could bring a measure of justice to Michael K. Williams and his family.”
Williams, 54, was found dead in his penthouse apartment in Brooklyn Sept. 6. At that time, the medical examiner’s office ruled Williams’ death an accident
Police pieced together Williams’ movements in the hours before his death using data from his mobile phone and license plate readers.
A security camera on the block recorded the drug deal, police said.
Williams talked with the group, and one of the people placed his hand on the actor’s shoulder in an apparent gesture of recognition, according to the complaint. Cartagena then walked around a row of trash cans, retrieved a plastic bag and handed it to the actor, the court papers said.
The men continued to sell fentanyl-laced heroin in broad daylight amid apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan even after knowing that Williams had died from one of their products, authorities said.
The others charged were identified as Hector Robles, 57, Luis Cruz, 56, and Carlos Macci, 70, all of Brooklyn. Their lawyers did not immediately return messages seeking comment. It wasn’t clear whether they were the men seen in the surveillance video.
All three were ordered detained at their initial court appearances.
The conspiracy charges against all four carry a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 40 years. The charge against Cartagena accusing him of causing the actor’s death carries a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life.
Cartagena had been arrested in February 2021 on state drug charges in Brooklyn after selling four small waxy paper bags to an undercover investigator, according to a federal complaint against him. At the time, he was on pretrial release from a gun charge arrest in August 2020.
He pleaded guilty Aug. 26 to disorderly conduct in both crimes and was sentenced to time served, the complaint read.
Williams’ “stick-up boy” Omar Little on “The Wire” — a fictionalized look at the underpinnings of Baltimore that ended in 2008 but remains popular in streaming — was based on real-life figures. He created another classic character as Chalky White in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and appeared in the films “12 Years a Slave” and “Assassin’s Creed.”
He had spoken frankly in interviews about his experiences with addiction.
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