5 indicted in NY for scheme to drug, kill and rob men
Apr 18, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: 5:38 pm
NEW YORK (AP) — Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, died in a taxi of an overdose last April after leaving a bar in Manhattan with a group of men. Relatives grew suspicious when they discovered money missing from his bank account.
A month later, John Umberger was found dead in a townhouse after leaving a nightclub so incapacitated that he had to be helped by several companions, police say.
Umberger’s family suspected foul play, doubting that the 33-year-old political consultant visiting New York City from Washington, D.C., would have purposely taken a lethal dose of drugs. Suspicions heightened when his bank account, too, appeared to have been drained.
A grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday names five men in connection to the drugging deaths of Ramirez and Umberger as part of a criminal operation to steal money. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said the group targeted men at bars and clubs — befriending them and then plying them with potent and dangerous drugs. When their victims became incapacitated, they were robbed of their wallets and cellphones, which were used to make purchases and digitally siphon money from their bank accounts.
The medical examiner’s office last month ruled both deaths were the result of “drug-facilitated thefts” and homicides. Lab tests showed both men had fentanyl, cocaine and lidocaine, among other substances, in their systems when they died.
“There were numerous victims in this pattern of crimes,” said NY Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell during a Tuesday news conference announcing the arrest of five suspects wanted in connection with the operation that led to the men’s deaths.
“They were targeted for robberies, and many of the victims are from our LGBTQIA-plus community,” Sewell said.
The grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday charged Jayqwan Hamilton, 35; Robert Demaio, 34; Jacob Barroso, 29; Andre Butts, 27; and Shane Hoskins, 30, for robbery and conspiracy to commit the robberies. All were charged with identity theft and grand larceny.
Hamilton and Demaio were charged with two counts of murder, while Barroso was charged with one murder count.
A sixth defendant, Eddie Ashley, who had been previously arrested, was separately indicted in connection with a single robbery incident.
“Their motive, we allege, was simple: To make money,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.
“They approached people, leaving bars and nightclubs late at night, engaged them in conversation and offered them illicit and dangerous substances,” Bragg said. “The defendants use these substances as weapons to incapacitate their victims, giving them an opportunity to steal their phones and credit cards in the subsequent hours and days after each incident.”
The alleged crimes did not appear to specifically target gay men, Bragg said. However, the neighborhood where the criminal enterprise focused attacks has a high concentration of LGBTQ+ residents.
Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, said he recognized the heightened anxiety being felt by some of the city’s residents.
“We want to send a message to our LGBT community that we understood the trauma that you experienced during this time,” he said, adding that authorities will “investigate any potentiality of a hate-crime component to this.”
Police say they have identified at least five killings, including Umberger and Ramirez, attributed to different groups that while using similar tactics, seemed to be operating independently.
Not all victims were gay men, officials said.
In March 2022, Nurbu Sherpa, a 29-year-old chef, was found dead on the sidewalk after leaving a bar where he had been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The Manhattan district attorney said at least one suspect has been charged in Sherpa’s killing and that of Ardijan Berisha, 26, who had passed out on a sidewalk with a friend in July after drinking at a bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Other men have since come forward with stories about being drugged by strangers and waking up to find money gone. Police urged others to report similar incidents.
Chief of Detectives James Essig said investigators have looked into 17 similar incidents between September 2021 and August 2022, when men were befriended in bars or nightclubs and offered narcotics or marijuana.