Metro Weekly

Alleged Ringleader Arrested in Robberies That Killed 2 Gay Men

Prosecutors allege that 35-year-old Jayqwan Hamilton was part of a five-man crew who drugged victims in order to rob them.

Jayqwan Hamilton – Photo: New York Police Department.

New York City police say they’ve arrested the man they believe is the ringleader of a robbery crew that carried out a scheme to drug nightclub patrons in order to incapacitate them, resulting in the deaths of at least two gay men.

Jayqwan Hamilton, 35, who was arrested on Monday in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, has been indicted on two counts of murder, along with multiple counts of grand larceny, robbery, identity, theft, and conspiracy in connection to 17 robberies carried out against Manhattan nightclub patrons over a 16-month period from March 2021 to July 2022.

Prosecutors claim that Hamilton was part of a five-man crew whose members allegedly targeted their victims at various nightlife spots, including a number of prominent gay bars, using drugs to incapacitate their victims. They then allegedly stole cash, as well as the victims’ bank and credit cards, and used facial recognition technology on victims’ phones to access bank accounts and transfer money to themselves.

“Their motive, we allege, was simple: to make money,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said at a press conference on Tuesday. “They approach people leaving bars and nightclubs late at night, engage them in conversation and offer them illicit and dangerous substances.”

Some of the crew’s victims were roommates of victims they had previously targeted at clubs, police say.

Prosecutors allege that two of the crew’s robberies resulted in the deaths of two gay men: Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker from Brooklyn, and John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant from Washington, D.C. Both men died from “acute intoxication” from a mix of fentanyl, cocaine, ethanol and other drugs. Both also had tens of thousands of dollars withdrawn from their bank accounts in the hours following their deaths. 

Police previously arrested the four members of this particular robbery crew: Andre Butts, 27; Shane Hoskins, 30; Robert Demaio, 34; and Jacob Barroso, 30 — all of whom were indicted in early March.

Hamilton was caught on camera allegedly using both Umberger and Ramirez’s credit cards to make illegal purchases, police say. Additionally, Butts was 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 dead body was discovered inside a cab on the city’s Lower East Side. 

Prosecutors claim the group was also seen entering and leaving the townhouse where Umberger was staying on the night he was killed, and driving off in a red Dodge Durango, which had been rented to Demaio. After police arrested Demaio, they found two videos on his phone showing him, Hamilton, and Umberger, who appeared to be unconscious, inside the townhouse, reports The New York Post.

Appearing in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, Hamilton pleaded not guilty to the indictment. A judge ordered him held without bail until his next court appearance on June 8.

Complicating matters, police have said that a number of different robbery crews have been targeting club-goers and drugging them using a scheme nearly identical to the one used by Hamilton’s crew. In total, the various crews are thought to be responsible for at least 40 robberies, resulting in seven deaths from overdoses.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams decried the crimes as “clearly rooted in greed and with total disregard for the victims.”

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg encouraged other members of the public to come forward if they believe they have been targeted by similar robbery schemes.

“In addition to the pain [Ramirez and Umberger’s] deaths have caused for their family and loved ones, I know that many other New Yorkers have feared for their own safety when going out to meet up with friends,” Bragg noted.  “If other members of the public believe they have been the victims of similar incidents, I encourage them to call our help line at 212-335-9040.”

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said that the joint work of police and prosecutors on the case “crystallizes the NYPD’s commitment to bringing callous criminals to justice, particularly those who would turn illegal drugs into weapons to prey on the innocent.”

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