A Manhattan grand jury indicted six suspects tied to the alleged gang rings targeting New York City’s nightlife — including three men suspected of being connected to the deaths of two gay men, John Umberger, 33, and Julio Ramirez, 25 — but the NYPD has yet to make any arrests.
Umberger, who was director of diplomacy and political programs for conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice, and Ramirez, a Brooklyn social worker, were last seen leaving separate Hell’s Kitchen gay clubs about a month apart last year.
Ramirez left the Ritz Bar and Lounge with unknown men in April 2022. Umberger was seen leaving The Q with unknown men in May 2022. The Hell’s Kitchen gay nightclubs are located two blocks from each other. Ramirez was found dead in the back seat of a taxi in the Lower East Side April 21. Umberger’s body was found June 1 inside Sekulow’s Upper East Side fifth-floor apartment.
The Q reportedly suddenly closed March 27.
NBC News reported in February that three men who went to The Eagle NYC, a gay leather bar, were also victims of a similar drug-related robbery scheme that resulted in thousands of dollars stolen using smartphone apps. It is unclear if those victims are connected to the 2021-2022 incidents.
On March 23, the grand jury indicted three of six alleged gang members for first-degree murder in connection to Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths. The six gang members connected to Kenwood Allen — who was arrested in December and charged in only five of the robberies and two of the deaths — were also indicted for grand larceny and first-degree robbery as well as conspiracy to drug and rob 17 people. Thus far, Allen has not been connected to Umberger or Ramirez’s deaths, according to the New York Daily News.
The following day, the NYPD issued arrest warrants for the three gang members. The New York Times reported authorities have only identified one suspect, Andre Butts, 28, connected to Ramirez. Butts was allegedly caught using Ramirez’s credit card to buy two pairs of Nike sneakers for $544.38 just hours after he was found dead. People reported it was unclear if Butts entered a plea to the charge.
Three other suspects — Shane Hoskins, 31; Eddie Ashley, 29; and Robert DeMao, 34 — were also arrested and charged in connection with some drug-related robberies along with Butts in November, the New York Daily News reported.
Butts’ lawyer, Terrence J. Grifferty, did not respond to Gay City New’s request for comment on March 30.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has sealed the criminal charges.
Bragg’s office spokesperson, Doug Cohen, told PIX11 request on March 26 that “we cannot comment or confirm. Indictments are under seal until arraignment in court.”
The Office of the New York City Medical Examiner on March 3 declared the two men’s deaths homicides with “drug-facilitated thefts.” The medical examiner found “acute intoxication” with the combined effects of nearly the same lethal cocktail of “fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, cocaine, lidocaine, and ethanol” in the bodies of Ramirez and Umberger. Heroin was also found in Ramirez’s system.
The medical examiner on March 24 also discovered a similar lethal cocktail in her autopsy of Kathryn “Katie” Gallagher, a New York fashion designer and celebrity stylist for Lady Gaga, Laverne Cox, and Chrissy Teigen. Gallagher, whose death was declared a homicide, was found dead in her Lower East Side apartment July 23, 2022.
It’s unclear if Gallagher identified as LGBTQ or if her death and the deaths of seven others, including Umberger and Ramirez, are related. In the cases involving members of the LGBTQ community, officials of the NYPD told NBC News the department’s Hate Crime Task Force is assisting in the investigation, despite the crimes not being related to their sexual orientation.
ABC News reported Nurbu Sherpa, 29, and Ardijan Berisha, 26, are two other fatal drugging victims. Shera was found in front of an East Village building in March 2022. Berisha was found in front of a Lower East Side building in July 2022. It’s unclear if these victims identified as LGBTQ.
In January, Jordan Taylor, a 29-year-old NYC law student, went missing outside of The Q. He hasn’t been found. It’s unclear if Taylor is possibly another victim.
ABC News reported multiple suspects are still being sought in two separate patterns investigators established in the loose string of LGBTQ and straight nightclub druggings and robberies in New York that initially appeared unrelated. At least 43 incidents of drug-related robberies where drunk victims were offered tainted narcotics or marijuana at a bar dating back to September 2021. Seven of those incidents resulted in fatal overdoses. Not one person has been connected to all incidents in what police called loosely knit robbery crews that were out for monetary gain.
Police told ABC News they linked 17 drug-aided robberies between September 19, 2021 and August 28, 2022 to the method used against Umberger and Ramirez. Umberger and Ramirez were allegedly drunk and accepted tainted drugs. Then their iPhones’ facial recognition was used to unlock their bank accounts and credit cards which were drained of more than $20,000.
The media outlet reported that another 26 robberies using a similar but more violent pattern happened between March 18 and December 8, 2022. Victims were offered tainted drugs inside clubs before victims’ money, jewelry, and cellphones were used to transfer money to other accounts using brute force outside or near clubs.
In December, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig told reporters that another 24 people survived the druggings to their knowledge, reported PIX11 News. It’s suspected that there could be others who have not come forward yet.
Essig also told reporters in November that, “This is based solely on monetary gain” warning people of the scam stating that several different crews are responsible using the same methods in the robberies, several that resulted in deaths, reported the New York Daily News.
An unidentified law enforcement source also told PIX11 News that the grand jury met last week considering the cases of two victims who died in Manhattan, but whose bodies were dumped in the Riverdale section of the Bronx last year.
Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, is frustrated and wants the men off the streets, so they don’t hurt anyone else, she told Gay City News.
“These are bad people,” said Clary who is anxiously waiting for the NYPD to arrest the suspects. “I’m just fed up and they need to stop hurting other people.”