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Suspected fentanyl dealer linked to fatal Lancaster overdose

By the time the final text message arrived, J.P. was dead, his body slumped over a desk inside his Lancaster home, a needle stuck in his arm.

Earlier in the day, one of his students – he was an online English teacher – had texted his girlfriend, warning her that he wasn't responding, but that breathing could be heard over his webcam.

About an hour later, his girlfriend discovered him dead, and Lancaster police began wondering who had sent that final message asking, "How did it go?"

On Wednesday, Maria K. Mestre, the woman who allegedly sent that message, stood before a federal judge accused of selling the fentanyl that helped kill J.P., whose full name police will not release.

"If what is being said is true, it exemplifies the addictive nature of these opioids," said defense attorney Thomas J. Eoannou.

Now in custody, Mestre is the latest in a series of accused drug dealers who also face allegations, and sometimes formal charges, linked to the fatal overdose of one of their customers.

More and more, prosecutors are targeting dealers as they look for ways to curb the region's ongoing opioid epidemic.

Although not directly charged with murder, Mestre is facing allegations that could result in a longer-than-expected prison sentence if she is ever convicted.

"She distributed fentanyl, which contributed to a death," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Felicetta said of the defendant.

Mestre, in her early 20s, said little during her court appearance, but court papers indicate that she acknowledged knowing J.P. and selling him several bags of drugs on the day he overdosed and died.

In an interview with a Lancaster detective, she said J.P. asked specifically for heroin that was stronger and suggested he "knew the repercussions" associated with taking those kinds of drugs, according to court papers.

The detective, in an affidavit detailing the government's case against Mestre, said J.P. was found unconscious in his bedroom on the morning of March 19 of last year and was administered a dose of Narcan in an effort to revive him. After several more attempts, all of them unsuccessful, he was pronounced dead.

At the scene, Lancaster police said they found four purple and white checkered bags containing what resembled heroin inside the victim's desk, and a fifth checkered bag next to his body. Testing on one of the bags indicated it was fentanyl.

In court papers, investigators say Mestre told them she texted J.P. because of her concern about the strength of the drugs.

Mestre is not the first suspected drug dealer to be linked to a fatal opioid overdose.

In November 2015, Peter N. Militello, a 35-year-old drug dealer from the Town of Tonawanda, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for selling the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed one of his customers.

The victim, Robert Runfola, was found dead in his Buffalo home, the bags of heroin near his body.

Heartache pervades sentencing in heroin death

Earlier this year, another local drug dealer, Damien Hicks-Bailey, admitted selling heroin to an addict who died of an overdose later that day.

Hicks-Bailey, 22, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin but, like Mestre, could face a longer than expected prison sentence because of the evidence linking him to a fatal overdose.

That victim was found inside a West Seneca apartment along with a hypodermic needle and empty plastic bag containing the defendant’s DNA.

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