In the latest development surrounding a string of robberies and fatal overdoses in the city’s nightlife scene, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Police Commissioner Keechat Sewell on December 23 announced the arrest of a man who allegedly carried out multiple druggings and robberies.
The announcement came after the NYPD made several other similar arrests amid a crime spree that has also included victims in the city’s LGBTQ community.
According to Bragg’s office, 33-year-old Kenwood Allen was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, one count of second-degree robbery, and two counts of second-degree assault for causing fatal overdoses of two people Allen robbed on the Lower East Side.
Braggs office said the two unidentified victims died following incidents on March 18 and July 30, 2022, respectively. The NYPD announced on December 30 that the two identified individuals were 29-year-old Nurbo Shera of Queens — who died on March 18 — and 26-year-old Ardijan Berisha of Westchester. Berisha died on July 30.
“Nobody should have to worry that a night out at a Manhattan bar with friends could end in tragedy,” Bragg said. “This murder indictment is the result of a long-term and ongoing investigation with our law enforcement partners to keep our city safe.”
Bragg hinted at future developments to come as authorities continue “to aggressively uncover all of the facts in this case and are in touch with community leaders and elected officials.”
Meanwhile, the NYPD recently arrested and charged five suspects with drugging and robbing victims out on the town in the city’s nightclubs. Authorities, however, do not necessarily believe LGBTQ individuals are being exclusively targeted.
“Some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, however, it is believed that not all of the victims are,” an NYPD spokesperson said in a written statement. “It is also believed that the motivation for these assault/robberies is monetary gain.”
New York’s LGBTQ community has been on edge following a months-long stretch of druggings and robberies at popular gay nightlife spots in Greenwich Village, the East Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen for at least the past year.
“They target their victims leaving bars, offering drugs in some cases, then either through force or when the victim passes out, they remove jewelry, money, high-end watches and phones from their victims,” the NYPD’s chief of detectives, James Essig, said during a press conference.
It’s not clear if any of the suspects are responsible for the deaths of Julio Ramirez, 25, and John Umberger, 33, or the drugging and robbing of what is estimated to be more than a dozen gay men who spoke to the New York Times.
ABC News reported its investigative team tracked at least 40 people who have been drugged and robbed in the city’s bars — queer and straight — over the last year. Seven of those victims have died.
Police told ABC News that the crime is not new, but they are seeing an increase in cases of victims of being drugged and robbed at New York nightclubs.
Out gay Manhattan Councilmember Erik Bottcher is urging LGBTQ clubgoers to remain vigilant during the holidays and New Year celebrations.
“I’m hopeful that New Yorkers are heeding the nightlife safety tips, and being extra cautious while going out,” Bottcher told Gay City News. “While the police are investigating this latest string of crimes, we want people to be extra vigilant.”
The warning comes a little more than a month after Bottcher teamed up with New York City Anti-Violence Project to reach out to Hell’s Kitchen clubgoers and bar and club owners. He spoke with patrons and handed out safety tips to remind LGBTQ folks to stay safe while having fun.
The gayborhoods have been put on high alert this year following the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger, who were allegedly drugged and robbed of thousands of dollars. Many other alleged victims who survived similar assaults and robberies have come forward and reported what happened to them to the police. Some — including an individual who told the Times he was drugged at Boiler Room in the East Village — alleged that police officers were skeptical when they filed their reports.
Ramirez, a social worker, was discovered dead by a taxi driver in the back seat of a cab on the Lower East Side after leaving Hell’s Kitchen’s Ritz Bar and Lounge with three men on April 21.
Umberger, a political consultant in New York for business from Washington, DC, was found dead June 1 inside his boss’s Upper East Side townhouse, where he was staying. Earlier in the evening, Umberger was alone at The Q in Hell’s Kitchen. The nightclub is near the Ritz Bar and Lounge.
Security video from the townhouse shows Umberger with three men at the building May 28. The unidentified men were at the townhouse for less than an hour.
Separately, The Q and Motel 23 were shrouded in controversy this year after the emergence of multiple allegations of wrongdoing. Frankie Sharp, former partner and creative director of The Q, sued his former business partners — Bob Fluet and Alan Picus — and the nightclub in May. He accused them of allegedly allowing drugs into the club, among other concerns. Picus was fired from the club in July. Sharp and his former partners are due in New York County Supreme Court on January 19, 2023.
A mother’s quest for answers
Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, showed the media an initial toxicology report from the New York City medical examiner’s office that showed cocaine, lidocaine, and fentanyl in his system. Lidocaine is a powerful numbing agent.
The city’s medical examiner hasn’t determined Ramirez and Umberger’s causes of death, the NYPD said in a statement to Gay City News. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner did not immediately respond to a Gay City News inquiry about Ramirez and Umberger on December 23.
Initially, both cases were allegedly considered unconnected drug overdoses by police until Clary and Ramirez’s brother, Carlos Ramirez, both separately reported suspicious financial transactions from their deceased loved ones’ accounts.
Ramirez’s accounts were depleted of approximately $20,000 and his iCloud password was changed. Umberger’s accounts had more than $20,000 withdrawn and his credit cards were maxed out.
Clary kept pushing for answers. Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths are being investigated as homicides.
ABC News reported there are “at least a dozen non-fatal cases in which victims were drugged and robbed are related.”
Following the NYPD’s arrests of five suspects on charges of grand larceny, identity theft, assault, and other charges, the NYPD stated multiple police units and the Manhattan district attorney’s office are working together to investigate “several incidents” where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assaults.
“We will work every day to ensure this violence does not go unchecked and that those committing these heinous crimes are brought to justice,” Mayor Eric Adams told Gay City News in a statement.
“I am hopeful that the investigation will bring people to justice soon,” Bottcher said.
Bottcher believes that there might be victims who haven’t come forward yet.
“I think it’s highly likely that there are people who have been victimized who haven’t contacted authorities, either because of shame or a because of a mistrust of authorities,” he said.
Bottcher is working with the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife, the Anti-Violence Project, and the NYPD on a number of initiatives from distribution of fentanyl test strips, safety webinars and training for clubgoers, and LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training for officers, he said.