Two more parents have come forward to warn New Yorkers about organized crime gangs who are drugging and robbing young men at gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen and are suspected of murdering at least two victims.
The NYPD has formed a grand larceny task force to investigate at least a dozen similar non-fatal cases in which well-dressed victims were targeted by three men at gay bars, drugged, and robbed of tens of thousands of dollars, after their bank accounts were emptied and credit cards maxed out.
The homicide squad separately is investigating at least two associated murders.
The medical examiner also is examining deaths previously thought to be drug overdoses to see if there are toxicological links to the gangs.
While most of the venues targeted are gay bars, at least one victim was approached at an Irish pub in Greenwich Village.
Linda Clary, the courageous mother of homicide victim John Umberger, 33, spoke out last week to warn other young New Yorkers about the menace lurking on their nights out.
Her son, a Washington, DC, political consultant, was drugged and robbed by three unidentified men believed to have targeted him at Eighth Avenue gay nightclub The Q NYC on May 28.
When Umberger’s body was found on June 1 in an Upper East Side apartment where he was staying, his cellphone was missing, and more than $25,000 had been transferred out of his accounts through cash apps such as Venmo and PayPal.
“This same group of killers have drugged, robbed and murdered countless young gay men in New York,” Clary told The Post.
Five weeks earlier, in near identical circumstances, Brooklyn social worker Julio Ramirez, 25, was found dead in the back of a taxi on the Lower East Side, an hour after he was seen in the company of three unidentified men leaving a gay club on West 46th Street, two blocks from The Q NYC, around 3:17 a.m. Thursdayon April 21. His phone and credit cards were missing and about $20,000 was stolen from his bank accounts and credit cards.
Preliminary toxicology reports show both Umberger and Ramirez died of drug overdoses, but evidence suggests they had been “roofied,” the colloquial term for someone spiking their drinks with date-rape drugs, sources say. Umberger’s toxicology tests found cocaine, lidocaine, and fentanyl in his system. Lidocaine is an anesthetic which causes confusion and drowsiness, and fentanyl is a deadly potent synthetic opioid responsible for the current US epidemic of drug deaths.
After reading our story about Umberger and Ramirez, the father of an NYU student told The Post on Thursday that his 21-year-old son also was victimized at The Q NYC bar where Umberger was last seen.
His son, a film student who wants to remain anonymous, has told police that he was befriended by three men at the Eighth Avenue bar between 2:42 a.m. and closing time on April 8. He then invited them back to his apartment in the West Village for beers with a female friend of his.
He believes he and his friend were drugged soon after arriving home. When they regained consciousness late the next morning, his phone had been stolen and both their wallets were missing. His accounts had been emptied using phone apps, Apple Cash, Venmo and PayPal, his credit cards had been used on liquor and shoes in Brooklyn and at a department store in Manhattan. The criminals also managed to start a credit card application with Goldman Sachs on his phone. His laptop and other personal items were stolen from his apartment. The losses added up to about $15,000.
The father said the three perpetrators “are able to gain people’s trust and confidence. They are like con men . . .”
“They’ve been preying on the gay community, and they pretend to be gay themselves. They see a young person like my son, and they see an easy victim . . . It’s definitely very well planned and executed.”
He believes the criminals unlocked his son’s phone with facial recognition by holding it in front of his face while he was unconscious.
His son initially was in denial about the crime, telling his father, “No dad, I was drinking so I fell asleep.” But eventually he “realized he was victimized” and gave a description of the assailants to the grand larceny task force, along with details of financial transactions and receipts for Uber trips the criminals took around Brooklyn and Manhattan at 5 a.m. after ripping him off.
Another mother contacted The Post this week to say that she believes her 21-year-old son also was drugged in the summer when he was separated from friends on a night out at Fiddlesticks Irish pub in the West Village. She asked to remain anonymous but has told her story to homicide detectives involved in Umberger’s case.
At about 12:22 a.m. on June 4, her son’s three female friends went to the bathroom and left him at the bar sipping his second vodka soda. Immediately, a man dressed as a bouncer approached him, said, “It’s time to go,” and escorted him outside.
He remembers suddenly feeling disoriented as he stood on the sidewalk trying to ask the “bouncer” why he was being evicted. But he can’t remember anything more until he woke up at his parents’ apartment on the Upper West Side at 10 a.m. His phone was missing, and his bank accounts had been cleaned out of more than $4,000. And, frighteningly, he found a puncture mark on his inner arm.
It was a similar M.O. to the attacks by the Hell’s Kitchen gang, except she says he is not gay and Fiddlesticks is not a gay venue.
Three men also were seen on surveillance footage with him outside his home at 1:30 a.m., but they looked to be a different race to the description of the men involved in the Hell’s Kitchen homicides.
It appears that there are at least “two different groups of perpetrators,” says a law enforcement source.
Difficult to link
The cases initially were difficult to link together because many of the victims were reluctant to report the crimes to police or didn’t want to divulge drug use on the night they were targeted, says the source.
“Nobody wants to tell a cop they were snorting coke.”
Another complication is that, thanks to state criminal justice reforms, larceny now is treated by the courts as a nonviolent offense and suspects cannot be held on bail.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been accused of impeding the investigations, but a spokesperson for the DA said this week: “Our thoughts are with these families and the entire LGBTQIA+ community. A dedicated team of senior homicide prosecutors and specially assigned analysts continues to actively investigate alongside the NYPD as we await the Medical Examiner’s findings.”
The message Clary and the other parents want to convey to young people in New York is never to go out to a bar alone.
“Please be careful,” says Clary. “Always have a buddy with you, and never let your friends go out alone.”