United States

2 Men Charged In Connection With Death Of Transgender Activist Cecilia Gentili

Revered for her contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and her acting prowess in the acclaimed series "Pose," Cecilia Gentili's demise sparked an outpouring of grief from both her peers and New York's political figures.

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Cecilia Gentili attends the 2022 Center Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on April 14, 2022 in New York City. Photo: Getty images

Two individuals have been indicted for their alleged involvement in supplying fentanyl-laced heroin that led to the untimely death of Cecilia Gentili, a transgender activist and actress, in her Brooklyn residence in February.

Michael Kuilan, 44, and Antonio Venti, 52, have been charged with providing drugs to Ms. Gentili, as unveiled in an indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court on Monday. This marks the first official acknowledgment of Ms. Gentili's cause of death. Both defendants entered pleas of not guilty before Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom in Brooklyn federal court.

Ms. Gentili, aged 52, was celebrated as a community leader, activist, and actress, notably recognized for her role in the critically acclaimed television series "Pose." Her passing prompted an outpouring of sorrow from the LGBTQ+ community and garnered condolences from New York's political figures, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The indictment details that Ms. Gentili departed her residence on the evening of February 5, procuring drugs from Mr. Venti during her absence. Upon her return, she complained of feeling unwell to her partner before retiring to bed. Tragically, she was discovered deceased the following morning by law enforcement officers, summoned by her partner's distress call to 911.

Prosecutors assert that Ms. Gentili's demise resulted from a lethal combination of heroin, xylazine, cocaine, and fentanyl. The indictment alleges that Mr. Venti facilitated the sale of the drug cocktail to Ms. Gentili, originally sourced from Mr. Kuilan, as evidenced by cellphone data and text messages.

Ms. Gentili's family declined to comment on the indictments.

Citing concerns over illicit drug dangers, Frank Tarentino, a special agent with the New York division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, emphasized the broader implications of Ms. Gentili's tragic passing on all communities, particularly the LGBTQ+ demographic.

People with flowers and a banner honoring Cecilia Gentili outside St. Patricks Cathedral in Manhattan on Feb. 15, 2024, in New York.
People with flowers and a banner honoring Cecilia Gentili outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. Photo: Getty images

Authorities discovered alarming evidence during a search of Mr. Kuilan's residence, including a firearm, ammunition, and numerous small bags containing approximately 30 grams of fentanyl—a quantity deemed sufficient to administer lethal doses to thousands of individuals.

The indictment elevates the charges against both defendants, encompassing distribution of heroin and fentanyl resulting in death, carrying a potential sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment. Mr. Kuilan, a repeat offender with prior felony convictions, saw his bail increased to $250,000, while Mr. Venti was permitted to remain free on bond despite his own criminal history.

In response to the unfolding legal proceedings, Mr. Turco, Mr. Venti's attorney, issued a statement expressing condolences for Ms. Gentili's tragic loss, underscoring his client's commitment to transgender advocacy. Meanwhile, federal efforts continue to combat the pervasive threat of fentanyl overdose, deemed by the DEA as the foremost peril facing Americans today.