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Suspect in NYC gay bar robbery scheme changes plea to guilty

Prosecutors alleged that from September 2021 to August 2022, six men worked together to drug and rob at least 16 victims. Two of the victims died.
John Umberger; Julio Ramirez.
John Umberger, left, and Julio Ramirez were drugged and killed in separate incidents after visits to New York City gay bars.Linda Clary; Family photo

A suspect in a drug-induced robbery scheme that led to the deaths of two gay men in New York City last year pleaded guilty to robbery, grand larceny and identity theft charges Monday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors said the charges against Eddie Ashley, 30, are related to four separate incidents, one of which was part of a citywide scheme that afflicted at least 16 victims from September 2021 to August 2022 and led to the deaths of social worker Julio Ramirez, 25, and political consultant John Umberger, 34.

Ashley, who was arraigned in the crimes separately at different times throughout last and this year, had pleaded not guilty. On Monday, he changed his plea to guilty. 

“Everyone should be safe when they go out and experience Manhattan’s vibrant nightlife, and this multi-year prison sentence makes clear we will not tolerate this type of dangerous conduct," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Ashley’s attorney, Terrence J. Grifferty, confirmed his client’s guilty plea and said Ashley is expected to be sentenced to nine years in state prison on Nov. 20. Grifferty added that Ashley is being held in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex but declined to comment further. 

Linda Clary, Umberger’s mother, said: “I’m grateful for his willingness to admit his guilt and have some consequences for that. We can only hope for justice for the rest involved.”

Five other men — Jayqwan Hamilton, Robert Demaio, Jacob Barroso, Andre Butts and Shane Hoskins — were charged and arrested in connection with the same crime scheme. The charges for the first three include murder. 

Prosecutors alleged the suspects drugged the victims, used their incapacitated faces to unlock their cellphones using facial recognition technology and then robbed them.

All five have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are in police custody awaiting trial.

In a separate yet similar case, prosecutors in June indicted Kenwood Allen and Sean Shirley, alleging the men were involved in a drugging, robbery and larceny spree in New York City that totaled 21 victims and led to the deaths of five people from March to December 2022. Allen was initially indicted in December in connection with two of the murders.

Allen and Shirley have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The deceased victims in connection with the second crime ring are Sadath Ahmed, Ardijan Berisha, Katie Gallagher, Alexander Rudnitsky and Nurbo Shera, a district attorney’s spokesperson said. Gallagher, 35, was a fashion designer whose creations had been worn by celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Laverne Cox.

CORRECTION (Oct. 23, 2023, 8:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated how many incidents Eddie Ashley was charged with that were related to a citywide crime scheme that took place from September 2021 to August 2022. It was one incident, not all four.