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Gay bar druggings

NYPD investigates another victim in connection to gay bar drugging scheme, police sources say

A 30-year-old man said he was drugged after visiting a New York City gay bar, days before suspects of a citywide drug-induced robbery scheme were arrested.
The Eagle NYC, a gay bar in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.
The Eagle NYC, a gay bar in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.Google Maps

The New York City Police Department is investigating another drug-induced robbery in connection with a criminal scheme — largely targeting men visiting gay bars — that has left at least two men dead, police sources say. The previously unreported incident took place just days before several suspects in the scheme were arrested and indicted. 

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

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 He came forward for the first time to NBC News and asked that his full name not be published out of fear of retaliation from the individuals involved.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

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

Four of the six suspects had been arrested months earlier on grand larceny charges in connection with the scheme. Three were released soon after because they could not be held in custody under New York 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. From what he could recall, and from what he said police relayed to him after looking at the bar’s security footage, he entered a taxi with the men. His friends went home in a separate taxi. 

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

“She was not trying to help, the way she was speaking to me,” Michael said. “She was annoyed and trying to get rid of me.”

Michael said he hailed a cab and returned home to Brooklyn. He woke up later in the day and realized his bank accounts had been drained of all but about $40, which he used to pay for the taxi ride home.

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

“I drink like, you know, generally most weekends, and I use cocaine recreationally, so I know what these substances are supposed to feel like. And the way that I just like completely blacked out, have no recollection at all — that’s never happened to me before. I’ve never felt like this before,” Michael said. “And the way that I felt for the whole next two days, is not like any kind of hangover or withdrawal I’ve ever experienced.”

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

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 indicted in April.

“To be in what I thought was kind of a safe space like the Eagle — some place that I feel safe and welcomed — to be in that environment and to have my own drunken friendliness be taken advantage of like this, it’s a major violation,” Michael said. “It makes me feel unsafe in a place that’s been my home for a long time.”

Authorities have previously stated that, although most of the victims in the scheme are gay men, they were targeted for financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. A separate group is suspected of committing similar crimes on 26 victims visiting bars mostly without an LGBTQ affiliation.