Metro Weekly

Gay Bar Patrons Robbed of Thousands in New York

Three recent robberies bear striking similarities to the robberies and deaths of two gay men in New York last year.

Original image by Wavebreakmedia Ltd, Dreamstime

Three men who visited a New York City gay bar were robbed of thousands of dollars using facial recognition technology on their phones.

The three victims, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, a leather bar located in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood, on separate nights in October and November. They were each robbed of between $1,000 and $5,000, according to the New York City Police Department.

No arrests have been made in any of the cases, and the investigation remains ongoing, police sources told NBC News.

At a police community council meeting two weeks ago, Capt. Robert Gault, of the city’s 10th Precinct, which includes Chelsea and part of Hell’s Kitchen, told community members that police believe the criminals managed to incapacitate the victims. They then used their phones’ facial recognition features to unlock the phones and funds — either by accessing bank accounts directly or utilizing mobile payment apps like PayPal and Venmo. 

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Police have been able to locate the license plate, vehicles of interest, and at least one phone number connected to the suspects in the incidents connected to the Eagle. 

According to NBC News, in January, The Eagle NYC posted security footage of two men interacting with bar patrons outside the venue on its Instagram, with the caption, “Do not take rides from these guys. We are told that they have someone in a car (around nearby street corners) waiting for these guys to bring someone.” The post has since been deleted. 

In a separate, also since-deleted post, the bar said it had “reported the known offenders to appropriate authorities.”

A 19-year-old female and a 42-year-old male who were visiting a non-LGBTQ bar, Hotel Chantelle, were also robbed in November and December by the same group of criminals, according to an NYPD spokesperson.

When asked how police were able to link all five incidents to the same perpetrators, the spokesperson noted, “All five cases have the same MO [modus operandi].”

The robberies bear eerie similarities to a pair of deaths from last year in which two gay men who went out to gay bars turned up dead of alleged drug overdoses, despite neither man having a history of drug use.

In April, 2022, Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old Brooklyn resident, was found unconscious in a taxi on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, less than an hour after leaving a Hell’s Kitchen nightclub with three other men who were not the friends he initially went out with that night.

Then, in May, the body of John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant from Washington, D.C., was found inside an Upper East Side townhouse owned by his employer, just hours after he went to a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen.

Umberger’s credit card was used to order and cancel a cab around 3:15 a.m. An hour later, he was spotted on a surveillance camera in a car with three unidentified men outside the townhouse. Two of the men entered with Umberger, and exited the townhouse without him 45 minutes later.

Both men had money missing from their bank accounts. Nearly $20,000 was removed from Ramirez’s financial accounts using mobile payment apps. Umberger’s credit cards were stolen and used to make purchases in the hours after his death, more than $25,000 had been transferred from his personal bank accounts using cash apps on his phone, and there was a failed attempt to empty his Charles Schwab trust fund account.

Both victims’ families believe foul play was involved. Umberger’s mother later appeared in commercials for former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin during his campaign for New York governor, lamenting her son’s death and the failure of the police to arrest anybody in connection with it, while also blasting Democrats for being “soft on crime.”

At the time of Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths, the NYPD revealed that it was investigating several incidents where individuals — most of whom were members of the LGBTQ community — were allegedly drugged and robbed or assaulted.

Several other men have since come forward, telling The New York Times they believed they were victims of a similar scam.

In one instance, a man who went to the same gay bar as Ramirez, a month earlier, claimed he was drugged and had $2,000 taken from his bank account.

In a separate incident, a man was robbed of more than $25,000 after a night out. He later tested positive for cocaine, but had no memory of taking the drug.

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