Gang members alleged to have preyed on club-goers at various bars in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen have been indicted on charges related to the drug-induced deaths of two gay men last spring.
Warrants were issued on Friday for the arrest of three of the men, a day after a Manhattan grand jury indicted them on first-degree murder charges in relation to the deaths of D.C. political consultant John Umberger and Brooklyn social worker Julio Ramirez.
All six gang members have been indicted on charges of grand larceny, first-degree robbery, and conspiracy to drug and rob at least a dozen victims, reports The New York Post.
Umberger, 33, and Ramirez, 25, died from “acute intoxication” from a mix of fentanyl, cocaine, ethanol, and other drugs, according to the New York City Medical Examiner’s office, which ruled both deaths homicides earlier this month.
Ramirez was found dead inside a taxi on the Lower East Side in April of last year after being seen leaving the Ritz Bar and Lounge, a gay club in Hell’s Kitchen, with three unidentified men.
His wallet and phone were missing, delaying notification, and his family later reported that his bank account had been emptied of about $20,000 through apps such as Venmo and Zelle. His credit cards were maxed out after being used to purchase items like expensive dinners and spa services.
In January, an NYPD spokesman told ABC New York that a man, Andre Butts, had been arrested last June for using Ramirez’s credit card to buy two pairs of Nike sneakers for $544.38 at an upscale store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, just hours after Ramirez’s body was discovered.
Umberger was last seen on Saturday, May 28, 2022 after a night out at the gay nightclub Q NYC, while in town for a work trip. His credit card was used around 3 a.m. at the club and he was seen an hour later on surveillance camera with three unidentified men in a car outside the Upper East Side townhouse where he was staying.
Two of the men were seen on camera entering the townhouse with Umberger, and later leaving without him.
Umberger’s body was found four days later in a fifth-floor apartment of the townhouse, which is owned by his employer, the American Center for Law and Justice.
His cell phone and credit cards were missing, and more than $25,000 had been transferred from his bank accounts using cash apps. His family later reported that there had been a failed attempt to log into and empty Umberger’s trust fund account.
Ramirez and Umberger were among at least seven people who died from overdoses after being given narcotics laced with fentanyl and other deadly drugs, according to police.
One of those victims was Lower East Side fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, who died last July of “acute intoxication” from a mix of fentanyl, p-pluorofentanyl, and ethanol — some of the same drugs that killed Ramirez and Umberger.
However, it remains unclear whether the six men charged with involvement in Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths were involved in Gallagher’s death or those of the other victims.
Further complicating matters is that police believe several other gangs were conducting a nearly identical robbery scheme, according to the New York Daily News. Police say the robberies are motivated by financial gain, rather than targeting specific communities.
In one of the patterns, victims are offered cocaine or marijuana cigarettes by strangers as they leave bars, with robbers trying to “befriend” their prey.
When the victims accept, they’re robbed of their cell phones. In some cases, the robbers have been able to incapacitate the victims and use facial recognition technology on their phones, along with cash apps, to transfer money from their banking accounts.
Additionally, New York media outlets have previously reported on additional victims who failed to file police reports due to shame, embarrassment, or fear of their accounts not being believed.
In November, four suspects — Andre Butts, 28, who purchased the sneakers with Ramirez’s credit card; Shane Hoskins, 31; Eddie Ashley, 29; and Robert DeMao, 34 — were arrested and charged in connection with some of the drug-related robberies, according to the Daily News.
At the time of the arrests, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said that police were aware of at least 16 victims who had been drugged and robbed between September 2021 and August 2022.
A month later, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. announced the indictment of 33-year-old Kenwood Allen on murder, robbery, and other charges, alleging that he was part of a gang responsible for a string of robberies in which 26 victims were drugged and incapacitated and six died of drug overdoses.
Allen was personally charged in only five of the robberies and two of the deaths. Thus far, he has not been connected to Umberger or Ramirez’s deaths.
Earlier this year, in February, the New York City Police Department confirmed that three men who had visited The Eagle NYC, a gay leather bar, had fallen victim to a similar drugging and robbery scheme — although it is unclear whether those victims were connected to the 2021-2022 robberies.
Public safety experts are warning nightclub-goers in New York City, especially members of the LGBTQ community, to take preventative measures to protect themselves. Those steps include disabling facial recognition technology on their phones, watching their drinks when they are being prepared, never leaving their drink alone or getting a new one if it’s left behind, and refusing any drinks or drugs offered to them by strangers.
Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, who has been harshly critical of New York politicians and DA Bragg’s office specifically, said earlier this year that she felt vindicated after the medical examiner returned a finding that her son was the victim of a homicide, rather than a voluntary drug overdose, as police had initially informed the family.
Clary has maintained that it would have been out of character for her son to seek out drugs.
Speaking with The Post, Clary praised NYPD Detective Randy Rose for connecting her son’s death with Ramirez’s after realizing a gang operating out of Hell’s Kitchen was exploiting patrons of nightlife spots in order to rob them.
“Without the hard work and dedication of NYPD Detective Randy Rose and countless others we would be nowhere,” Clary said. “Detective Rose has been the greatest blessing in this tragedy. He is professional, committed and excellent at his job. I wish there were more of him.”
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