A second suspect was arrested and charged with murder in connection with a string of drug-facilitated robberies of men who visited gay bars in New York City that included two deaths, two senior law enforcement officials told NBC News on Monday.
Robert Demaio, 34, was charged with murder, robbery, grand larceny, identity theft and conspiracy in connection with the death of John Umberger, a 33-year-old political consultant, and in a separate incident in which an unidentified victim did not die, the officials said.
Umberger and Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, were both found dead after visiting gay bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood last spring. Both had left the bars with at least one unknown person before their bank accounts were drained of thousands of dollars using facial recognition access on their phones, according to their family members.
Last month, the medical examiner’s office ruled their deaths as homicides caused by a “drug-facilitated theft.” Multiple drugs were found in their systems, including fentanyl, lidocaine and cocaine.
The two law enforcement officials said that police obtained security video showing Demaio and Jayqwan Hamilton — one of three suspects police have named in connection to the homicides of Umberger and Ramirez — entering and leaving Umberger's temporary residence in Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Through a search warrant, police also recovered two videos from Demaio's phone that showed Demaio at the site of Umberger's death, the officials added. In one of the videos, according to the two officials, Umberger appears to be unconscious, lying face up on a bed at his temporary New York City residence.
"It speaks volumes of the heartlessness of these people," Umberger's mother, Linda Clary, said of the videos. "That's what I find very troubling and why I don't think these people should be allowed to be amongst us."
Demaio’s detention follows the arrest of Jacob Barroso on Saturday. Barroso, 30, was charged with murder, robbery, grand larceny and conspiracy in connection with Ramirez’s death and in a separate incident where the victim survived, police said Sunday.
Man arrested on murder charge in NYC gay bar drugging schemeApril 2, 202302:14
Barroso was arraigned Monday in Manhattan Criminal Court on murder and robbery charges. He pleaded not guilty and was not granted bail.
"We intend to fight this case vigorously," his attorney, David Krauss, said.
Several family members and friends of the defendants crowded into the courtroom Monday afternoon. Outside the courtroom, one of Barroso's supporters said he was "not a murderer. You guys got this backwards. We will prove his innocence."
A group of family members and friends of Ramirez were in the courtroom for the proceeding, and the victim's mother was seen crying.
"In addition to the unimaginable pain their family and loved ones are enduring, I know that many other New Yorkers have feared for their own safety when out experiencing New York’s vibrant nightlife. These charges demonstrate that our career prosecutors have the skill, professionalism and dedication needed to solve these types of challenging cases.
On Friday, police said they believe Demaio, Barroso and Hamilton are among those responsible for a broader “citywide robbery pattern” that includes at least 17 victims. The incidents — which include Ramirez’s and Umberger’s robberies and deaths — occurred from Sept. 19, 2021, to Aug. 28, the spokesperson said.
An additional suspect was arraigned Monday afternoon on robbery, grand larceny and identity theft charges in connection with the string of robberies. Andre Butts, 28, was captured on security video buying sneakers with Ramirez’s credit card, according to prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Butts, who was arrested Friday and pleaded not guilty, is being held on $100,000 bail after he tried to flee during his arrest, prosecutors said.
Butts' arraignment follows last week's proceeding against Shane Hoskins, who was arraigned on felony larceny and identity theft charges in connection with the same string of robberies.
An indictment naming Hoskins, 31, and four other unidentified co-conspirators outlined a pattern where victims were “incapacitated to the extent that their ability to perceive events became diminished,” so that the suspects could then steal their victims’ cellphones and credit cards and use the physical cards and information stored on the victims’ phones to transfer money to themselves and make purchases.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell commended the teamwork between the NYPD and city prosecutors to bring forward charges.
“These defendants showed a callous disregard for human life — and now, we are working to hold them accountable," Sewell said in a statement.
NBC News has spoken with several gay men who said they survived similar incidents from December 2021 to October 2022.
The New York City Police Department previously confirmed to NBC News that there are multiple groups of criminals committing these types of crimes against men visiting the city’s gay bars. Police also said that comparable crimes were being committed against patrons of bars without any LGBTQ affiliation.
One separate group is suspected of committing similar crimes on 26 victims, two law enforcement officials told NBC News last week. Fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, whose death in July was ruled a drug-facilitated homicide by the medical examiner’s office, was one of the subsequent group’s victims, the officials said.
Last week, the New York City medical examiner’s office also confirmed that it is investigating “several additional deaths in similar circumstances” to those of Ramirez and Umberger. It is unclear, however, if they were found dead after visiting gay bars or whether they were connected with Demaio, Barroso and Hamilton.
A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office said they “could not comment further due to the ongoing criminal investigations.”
CORRECTION (April 6, 2023, 11:15 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the judge’s decision regarding monetary bail for defendant Jacob Barroso. The judge denied Barroso bail; she did not set bail at $3 million.