Four men have been charged in connection with a scheme to drug and rob drunk gay men as they left bars in Manhattan in a case that ignited fears in New York’s LGBTQ community.
Robert Demaio and Jacob Barroso were charged Monday with murder, robbery, identity theft and conspiracy, among other counts. Demaio faces two counts of first-degree murder while Barroso is charged with one count of second-degree murder.
They pleaded not guilty.
Barroso’s attorney, David Krauss, said Tuesday that his client maintains his innocence, stands by his not guilty plea and will “vigorously fight these charges and accusations in court.”
Two other men, Andre Butts and Shane Hoskins, are charged with robbery, identity theft and conspiracy, among other counts. They’ve also pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for the other men either didn’t immediately return requests for comment or declined to comment Tuesday.
Prosecutors say Demaio, Barroso, Butts and Hoskins are part of a crew believed responsible for many druggings and robberies. Many of those who fell victim to the alleged scheme survived.
Two of them did not.
How police say the ring worked
According to an indictment filed Monday, Demaio, Barroso, Butts and Hoskins conspired to “approach intoxicated individuals upon exiting a bar or nightclub, engage them in conversation, and offer and administer dangerous and illicit substances to them for the purpose of causing their incapacitation.”
Once their targets were incapacitated, the men stole their phones, credit cards and other items, ringing up charges, the indictment said.
Two of the men that prosecutors believe they targeted – 25-year-old Julio Ramirez and 33-year-old John Umberger – died from “drug-facilitated thefts,” according to the coroner’s office.
Ramirez, a social worker, was leaving a gay bar called The Ritz in Hell’s Kitchen when he was targeted last April. His body was found shortly afterward in a cab.
Umberger, a political consultant, went missing in May after visiting the Q bar in Hell’s Kitchen and was found dead five days later.
Both died of the combined effects of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and a number of other drugs, according to the coroner.
Family members have told news media that their bank accounts were drained.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement that “illegal drugs have no place in our city, especially when they are weaponized to commit other crimes.”
“These defendants showed a callous disregard for human life – and now, we are working to hold them accountable,” she said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement that “our entire city continues to mourn the tragic losses of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umberger.”
“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,” he said.
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