Nov. 28, 2023 By Bill Parry
Vladimir Esguerra, 41, and Jonathan Betancur, 34, were sentenced on Nov. 21 by U.S. District Judge Eric Komitee to 128 months’ imprisonment and 110 months’ imprisonment, respectively, for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distributing the heroin and fentanyl that caused the death of Michael J. Marino.
According to the government’s sentencing letters and court documents, Esguerra and Betancur were drug dealers who distributed narcotics together in Queens since at least 2015. Sometimes, Esguerra would meet the buyer and handle the transactions himself and other times he would send Betancur instead. In July 2019, they sold heroin cut with fentanyl to Marino, who suffered a fatal overdose as a result in a pizzeria in Ozone Park.
“As the defendants admitted in their guilty pleas, they conspired over a period of years to distribute narcotics in our community and tragically those narcotics had deadly consequences,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “We are facing a national crisis of opioid addiction, which cuts lives short every day in this district and across the country. Today’s sentences send a message that those who prey on people suffering from this disease will be punished. It is our hope that these sentences will deter others from peddling dangerous drugs and provide some measure of comfort to the victim’s family.”
In September 2019, Betancur was arrested by the NYPD in an unrelated case, and two cell phones that he was carrying were seized. One of them was the same phone he had used to communicate with Marino on the day of the overdose — and the number to which Marino had saved as “Vlad.” Earlier this year, both defendants pleaded guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy and admitted responsibility for Marino’s death.
“The opioid crisis has cut a wide swath across our country, affecting people from all walks of life and causing immense harm in every community,” NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said. “To combat this scourge locally, the NYPD and our law enforcement partners work relentlessly to disrupt drug trafficking operations and hold those involved fully accountable. The sentences handed down today send a message of support to the families of loved ones lost, promising that we will not rest until justice is delivered.”