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NYPD investigating another victim in gay bar drug scheme, law enforcement sources say

The New York Police Department is investigating another drug-related robbery in a criminal scheme – largely targeting men visiting gay bars – that left at least two men dead, according to police sources. The previously unreported incident happened just days before several suspects in the scheme were arrested and charged.

Between September 2021 and August 2022, suspects drugged their victims in order to access and steal their cellphones, often using facial recognition technology, prosecutors say. Two of the victims, John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant, and Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, were found dead following drug-related robberies, prosecutors said.

Michael, a 30-year-old gay man, is the most recent of at least 16 victims. He first came forward to NBC News and asked that his full name not be published for fear of reprisals from those involved. On March 25, Michael said, he was drugged and robbed of around $5,000 after visiting The Eagle NYC, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where at least three similar incidents had previously been reported. The Eagle NYC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities are investigating the March 25 incident as being related to the same “citywide robbery pattern” that resulted in the indictment of six suspects between March 29 and April 13, according to police sources. The sources said no charges have been brought specifically in Michael’s case.

Four of the six suspects had been arrested months earlier for robbery in connection with the scheme. Three were released soon after because they could not be held under New York’s bail law.

Michael said he was intoxicated when he and his friends were approached by three men after leaving the bar around 3:45 a.m. taxi with the men. His friends went home in a separate taxi.

He says he vaguely remembers being in an unfamiliar apartment before regaining consciousness a few hours later without his mobile phone. When he came to, he said, a woman he didn’t know — but who knew his name — was shaking him on the side of a street in East Harlem, about 80 blocks north. of the Eagle.

“She wasn’t trying to help, the way she was talking to me,” Michael said. “She was annoyed and was trying to get rid of me.”

Michael said he called a cab and drove home to Brooklyn. He woke up later that day to find his bank accounts had been emptied of all but about $40, which he was using to pay for the taxi ride home.

That afternoon, Michael said he reported the theft to authorities, saying he believed the three men drugged him, stole his phone and then used his facial recognition technology to unlock it. and access their bank accounts.

“I drink like, you know, usually most weekends, and I use cocaine recreationally, so I know what these substances are supposed to look like. And the way I like to completely pass out, have no memory at all – this has never happened to me before. I’ve never felt like this before,” Michael said. “And what I felt for the next two days was unlike any kind of hangover or withdrawal I’ve ever experienced.”

An NYPD spokesperson confirmed that a 30-year-old man filed a police report after “$5,000 in unauthorized charges were made from his checking and savings account after spending time with three unknown men”.

Four days after Michael’s robbery, a Manhattan grand jury indicted five of the six suspects in connection with the scheme. A sixth suspect was charged in April.

“To be in what I thought was some sort of safe space like the Eagle – a place where I feel safe and welcomed – to be in that environment and enjoy my own drunken togetherness like that is a violation. major,” Michel said. “It makes me feel unsafe in a place that has been my home for a long time.”

Authorities have previously said that although most of the program’s victims are gay men, they were targeted for financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. A separate group is believed to have committed similar crimes over 26 victims visiting bars mostly without LGBTQ affiliation.

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