Heroin's Twisted Hold on Two More Lives

Court reports tell of the grip of this drug on all those involved in its abuse.

for supplying the heroin that killed Alex Hopping of Wauwatosa last year perhaps was the final act of a long and tragic drama.

But there is an epilogue. It is written by heroin itself.

This epilogue is largely contained in documents called pre-sentence investigation reports, referred to as PSIs. They are not required in all criminal cases, but may be ordered, as they frequently are in complex cases.

They contain not just the evidence from the criminal investigations but also post-conviction interviews and statements by the defendants, associates, interested parties, court authorities, family members.

PSI's were ordered for both Birtic and Esteves. They were referred to heavily by Circuit Judge David Borowski in his sentencing deliberations. They tell us much more than was known before about these two men and about how heroin has ruined their lives as well as destroying Alex's.

Read Wawuatosa's Patch's three-part series on the life and death of Alex Hopping from November 2011.

Even though the Wauwatosa police produced reams of reports during a six-month investigation leading to the arrests, their reports gave little more than snapshots of Birtic and Esteves taken on the successive September days when they were taken into custody.

In fact, the police did not even know who Esteves was or where he lived until after he was arrested. He had a lot of heroin and guns and children. He gave no statement, so the police were done with him.

Birtic was a little less of a mystery. He was under surveillance for a long time; police knew something of his comings and goings. But because it was all undercover, they could talk to no one about him. He, too, was really an enigma.

Not a user, but a dealer

Let's start with Esteves.

Edwin Esteves claims a troubled childhood, beginning with a father who was mostly absent or difficult because he was consumed with – can you guess? – heroin.

Esteves' first major run-in with the law was as a juvenile when he was caught in school with a loaded handgun. He told authorities he needed it to protect himself from a south side Milwaukee gang.

Later, Esteves joined such a street gang, and recorded a variety of arrests in his early adult years, culminating in a felony conviction in 2002 for keeping a drug house, where he sold large quantities of marijuana. He served 14 months of prison time for that after he failed to show up in court and was charged with bail jumping.

From then until September 2011, he managed to stay out of the courts. He worked as a laborer in construction and roofing for a time. He fathered five children.

Esteves told the court he enjoyed being a father. He wanted to provide well for his children. He lacked skills to make good money in the trades. So, three years before his arrest, he started dealing heroin.

Esteves said he did not use heroin himself – he had tried it a couple of times but it was not his drug of choice. He preferred marijuana.

So why did he sell heroin? Because, he said, he could "make a lot of money."

"It was a dangerous game that we were all playing," he told the court.

Esteves was careful in his dangerous game. He never gave buyers his name, going by "K." He never talked, always texted, and met his connections away from his house.

When he was arrested in a Wauwatosa police sting, Esteves had about 3 grams of heroin on him, which he handed to the mother of his children, who stuck it in her mouth and tried to swallow it, unsuccessfully.

More heroin was found in his house, bringing the total to about 20 grams – 200 hits worth $4,000.

Also found in the home were four loaded and unsecured guns, including a .357 Magnum. He had a marijuana growing operation in a closet, complete with grow-lights and reflective foil-lined walls.

Four of his five children, ages 5 to 11, were home alone with all the guns and drugs. Only the marijuana plants were under lock and key.

'Compassion' by another name

Daniel Lee Birtic is another story. He was the product of a well-off Waukesha family, as was Alex Hopping.

Birtic told the court he had some "issues," including depression, as a youth that led him to heavy drug use. He had no diagnosis. He said he had brought it up a couple of times to school counselors.

Birtic admitted to abusing alcohol at 13 and then using a pharmacopia of drugs beginning at 14. He used and abused alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Xanax, morphine... the list goes on – but it ends with heroin.

Twenty-three at the time of his arrest, Birtic said he had been a heroin addict for 3½ years.

During at least the two years before he was arrested, Birtic had developed a routine. He would collect money from his heroin-using friends and associates in Waukesha and drive, daily, to Milwaukee to meet Esteves. He would buy the drug with their cash, earning an extra $20 bag from Esteves for every $100 he bought.

By doing so, Birtic, as a "mule" or "middler," paid nothing to feed his own addiction.

By his own admission, and the calculations of court authorities, Birtic channeled about $91,000 a year over two years from Waukesha youths to Esteves.

Birtic had no prior criminal record whatsoever. His only run-ins with the law were traffic offenses, which cost him his driver's license. He was so careful of being arrested, he quit driving and talked others into driving him to Milwaukee to buy drugs.

Birtic's friends and family told court officers that he was a kind and caring person who would do anything to help out a friend.

And Birtic himself told authorities, initially, that he thought what he was doing was "compassionate." He was doing his friends a favor, he said. He was keeping them from becoming "dope sick" – the condition of a junkie who can't get a fix.

'I hope they get justice'

After Alex Hopping died at 19, on April 18, 2011, Birtic continued to collect money from his friends in Waukesha, continued to buy and deliver heroin to them, for six months more until he was arrested – all in the name of "compassion."

Upon reflection, after his guity plea to first-degree reckless homicide – Birtic had told Hopping that the heroin was "OD" quality – he admitted that he had endangered other people's lives.

"I am so, so sorry" he told the court and the Hopping family at his sentencing.

Judge David Borowski called him "selfish" and "reckless" and gave him six years in prison.

Esteves had a succint statement of his own.

"I would like to apologize to the Lewis and Hopping families. I hope they get justice. That is all."

Esteves was given 16 years in prison for his part in the tragedy.

Anonymous August 21, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Actually yes I believe a lot of it was the wealthy suburban parents hard earned money. Along with the few people with their own money who could actually maintain a job as well as an addiction. The addiction itself becomes somewhat of a full time job to manage, thus why most "junkies" dont work but instead lie, cheat and steal to get a fix.
Randall Brooks September 30, 2012 at 05:46 AM
If you really want to put an end to this tragic affair, you must first change the way you look at it. Dare to change you'e thinking; learn how at the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website. Learn from the men and women on the front lines of the war on drugs.
No name May 28, 2013 at 06:48 PM
No name May 28, 2013 at 06:53 PM
I was a serious heroin addict for years, and K, also known as Edwin Esteves, the drug dealer accused in this case was also my dealer. I've never met or seen Birtic, but I purchased heroin through Esteves for three years. My husband and I paid esteves over $200,000 in a two-three year period, sometimes purchasing up to hundreds a day. Thankfully, my husband, now ex, and I are clean and have been for over a year. I just wanted to answer the question about where the money comes from...it comes from working, hustling, pawning valuables, stealing and pawning or selling those items, conning family or friends into borrowing money, basically getting money any possible way u can, selling any and everything, and coming up with different excuses everyday as to why u need to borrow money from friends or family....continued..
No name May 28, 2013 at 06:59 PM
...continued...i just wanted to say that esteves was a nice guy, he wasn't a hardcore gang banger, he was just trying to take care of his children and family. And I kno it was obviously not the right way of doing it, but he wasn't the type that was buying extravagant things. He drove a normal piece of crap car, lived in a small house, and was there everyday for his children and bought them whatever they wanted. I hope his time in jail rehabilitates him and he never goes back to the drug lifestyle when he's out. My heart and soul go out to the hopping family. If it wasn't for my x and I using together all the time, one or both of us probably would've died from overdoses, but we were always there to revive each other. Going to jail for 35 days on a traffic charge and withdrawing horribly made me quit and never go back. Its a sad horrible life and I've lost a part of myself I will never get back. I hope all addicts find their solace. This isn't meant to offend anyone.


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