Carlos Macci spent decades struggling with addiction, selling heroin and fentanyl not to make money but to ease his own cravings, according to court records.
He was part of a four-man crew selling drugs out of an apartment in Williamsburg, and on Sept. 5, 2021, he was with a man who sold a bag of fentanyl-laced heroin to the actor Michael K. Williams.
Mr. Williams, who became famous for playing a charismatic stickup man named Omar Little on the HBO series “The Wire,” took the drugs back to his Brooklyn apartment and was found dead the following day, still wearing the same clothes he had on the day before.
On Tuesday, Mr. Macci, now 72, walked into Federal District Court in Manhattan, his shoulders stooped, and apologized for his role in Mr. Williams’ death. The judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison.
Over the past several weeks, Judge Ronnie Abrams had received letters from friends of Mr. Williams, including from David Simon, the co-creator of “The Wire,” who asked the judge to sentence Mr. Macci to time served. Federal prosecutors sought at least a four-year sentence.
Judge Abrams said that while she sympathized with Mr. Macci’s troubles, the deadly toll of fentanyl and his decision to keep selling heroin laced with it even after Mr. Williams died demanded accountability.
“I have struggled with the decision I’ve had to make today,” she told Mr. Macci. “Selling drugs like heroin and fentanyl not only cost Mr. Williams his life, but it’s cost you your freedom.”
Mr. Macci, who was born in Puerto Rico and is illiterate, was the first person sentenced in a federal case involving three other men that has stood out as an example of fentanyl’s fatal hold on the country. The drug and other synthetic opioids led to an average of 3,400 emergency room visits and 190 fatal overdoses each day in 2023.
Mr. Macci pleaded guilty in April to agreeing with others to possess and sell narcotics. The other three men have also pleaded guilty, including Irvin Cartagena, known as “Green Eyes,” who sold Mr. Williams the drugs and was accused of running the trafficking operation.
Mr. Macci’s lawyer, Benjamin Zeman, said his client was himself a victim of addiction and should be sentenced to the 18 months he had already served since his arrest in February 2022.
He compared Mr. Macci to a starving man who lives in the alley of a restaurant and takes the garbage out at night in the hopes he will be fed.
Micah F. Fergenson, the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, acknowledged that “this is a difficult case.”
But he noted that Mr. Macci had been shown leniency before, citing four previous convictions that ended in sentences of time served.
“They’ve had absolutely no deterrent effect,” Mr. Fergenson said.
Dominic Dupont, Mr. Williams’s nephew, addressed Judge Abrams before she issued her decision and said he had wrestled with what should happen to Mr. Macci.
“It weighs heavily on me to see someone be in the situation that he’s in,” he said. He described his uncle as an “amazing man” who “believed in an opportunity for people to get themselves right.”
But he also described the anguish of having to call Mr. Williams’s mother, Paula, and tell her that her son had died.
“Selling poison to people is not right,” said Mr. Dupont, 45. Mr. Macci, he said, still has the chance to figure out “what are some of the things that I can do to fix myself? To fix my life.”
“I know that Michael would look upon the undone and desolate life of Mr. Macci and know two things with certainty: First, that it was Michael who bears the fuller responsibility for what happened,” he wrote. And second, “No possible good can come from incarcerating a 71-year-old soul, largely illiterate, who has himself struggled with a lifetime of addiction.”
Dana Rachlin, who founded We Build the Block, a Brooklyn-based public safety organization with Mr. Williams, also wrote Judge Abrams, telling her that the actor had dedicated his life to ending “harsh sentencing policies” for drug-related crimes because they “disproportionately harm communities of color and make the supply chains more dangerous.”
“Michael would not want to perpetuate this cycle in his name,” she wrote.
After the sentencing hearing, Ms. Rachlin called Judge Abrams’ decision “regrettably misguided.”
During the hearing, Judge Abrams said she did not agree that the responsibility for fentanyl overdoses lay also with victims, who rarely know they are ingesting a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin.
And she disputed the idea that the failures of the war on drugs meant that judges should “throw up their hands” and disregard prison as an effective tool to hold dealers accountable and keep the public safe.
Judge Abrams, who also imposed three years of supervised release, including one year in a drug rehabilitation center, told Mr. Macci that he still could find redemption.
“I don’t think people need to be defined by the worst mistake they’ve ever made,” she said. “You still have a chance to define yourself in a positive way.”
After the hearing, Mr. Macci was handcuffed again, his wrists and ankles shackled to a chain that wrapped around his waist. As officers led him out of the courtroom, he turned to Mr. Dupont and nodded at him. Mr. Dupont nodded back.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Dupont called it a “sad day.”
“There are no winners today,” he said.