One of the suspects connected to a string of drug-facilitated robberies of men who visited gay bars in New York City that included two deaths was arraigned on felony charges Thursday, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.
Shane Hoskins, whom prosecutors have linked to the group of men alleged to be responsible for the fatal overdoses of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, was charged with two counts of grand larceny and one count of identity theft, accused of drugging and then stealing more than $500 from two people in April 2022, according to an indictment.
The indictment alleges a scheme in which Hoskins, 31, and four unidentified co-conspirators would approach intoxicated people outside bars or nightclubs in Manhattan, engage them in conversation and then give them drugs “for the purpose of causing their incapacitation.”
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Hoskins and co-conspirators would then steal their victims' cellphones and credit cards and use the physical cards and information stored on the phones to transfer money to themselves and make purchases, the indictment claims.
The indictment also alleges that in the immediate aftermath of the theft, Hoskins tried to use the stolen phone and credit cards to make purchases, including at a deli in Brooklyn.
Hoskins had been arrested in August but was re-arrested on upgraded charges Thursday. His bail was set at $50,000. He was also charged with robbery and conspiracy. His defense attorney declined to comment.
NBC News reported in November that a 21-year-old New York University student was robbed on April 8 after having left an LGBTQ bar in Hell’s Kitchen called The Q — the bar Umberger was last seen at before his death. The student's father said his son and his son’s friend believe they were drugged at some point after they left the bar with three men they had just met.
When the two regained consciousness, the father said, his son’s phone was missing, his bank accounts had been emptied using cash apps, and his credit cards had been maxed out. The student’s father said his son believes the assailants used his unconscious face to unlock his iPhone and bank accounts using Face ID.
A source familiar with the student’s case said Hoskins was alleged to have been involved in his robbery. Records also show that Hoskins’ arrest in August was in connection with an incident on April 8, the day the NYU student was robbed.
Two law enforcement officials said Wednesday that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted several unidentified suspects in connection with the deaths of Umberger and Ramirez. The officials did not specify how many suspects were charged with murder but said all were indicted on robbery charges in a pattern that involved at least 17 victims.
The officials alleged that the suspects were targeting victims for financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. However, they added that the New York City Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force is assisting in the investigation.
Umberger and Ramirez were found dead after having visited gay bars in the city’s lively 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, family members have said. This month — nearly a year after they were found dead — the New York City 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.
In the months after their deaths, more gay New Yorkers stepped forward with eerily similar accounts. NBC News has spoken with several gay men who said they survived similar incidents from December 2021 to October.
The medical examiner’s office confirmed Wednesday that it is investigating “several additional deaths in similar circumstances” to those of Ramirez and Umberger. It is unclear, however, whether the victims were gay men found dead after having visited gay bars or whether they were connected to the indicted suspects.
A spokesperson said the medical examiner’s office they “could not comment further due to the ongoing criminal investigations."