Two separate gangs were apparently preying on both straight and gay club-goers in Manhattan, from the Lower East Side to Hell’s Kitchen, for months — drugging and then robbing them via their phones — before it became clear it was a pattern, some of the victims’ parents told The Post.
Cops are investigating at least 43 incidents that took place all over the city between September 2021 and December 2022. Ten men with lengthy rap sheets have been identified as part of one gang and five in the other one, police sources told The Post. A number of them are reportedly from the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn.
Up-and-coming fashion designer Kathryn “Katie” Gallagher was among the victims of one of the two gangs, police said. The 35-year-old, who dressed Lady Gaga and other celebrities, was found dead of an overdose in her Eldridge Street apartment last year. On March 24, cops publicly declared her death a homicide.
Six members of one gang who preyed on gay men at Hell’s Kitchen nightclubs were indicted last week for the so-called “roofie” murders of John Umberger, 33, and Julio Ramirez, 25, last year.
Late Friday, police said they were seeking three members of one crew, Jayquan Hamilton, 35, Robert DeMaio, 34, both of Brooklyn, and Jacob Barroso, 30, of Harlem, in connection with the deaths of Umberger and Ramirez.
But well before the indictments, the father of a man who survived being drugged and robbed after being at a gay club went to the police with evidence, including electronic receipts, from his son’s phone.
“It seemed really clear by what I could see that this was more of an organized criminal enterprise than a one-off crime,” the father, who wanted to remain anonymous to ensure his son’s privacy, told The Post. “But they sat on it. We knew it was something bigger so it was frustrating when nothing was done.”
Linda Clary, Umberger’s mother, said more people came forward when they heard about other victims, but that it took a while for anyone to realize that there were organized criminal rings at work.
In most cases, the victims left bars with their assailants and were robbed after passing out from being drugged, or “roofied.” Even as they were unconscious, the suspects used facial recognition technology to unlock victims’ phones and then drained their bank accounts.
The only suspect arrested so far is Andre Butts, 28, who was caught using Ramirez’s credit card to buy two pairs of Nikes for $544.38 not long after Ramirez was found dead in a taxi in April 2022. Butts’ attorney, Terrence J. Grifferty, did not return calls from The Post.
“I think the police department and the mayor’s office knew that something like this was going on and they didn’t want to talk about it because New York was just coming out of the pandemic and people were going out again and they didn’t want to scare them off,” Clary said.
“The city has provided the perfect environment for this kind of crime to become rampant with so many [criminals] allowed back on the street no matter how long their rap sheets.”
Both parents said police seemed to initially downplay the incidents, as if they were accidental overdoses or, in the case of one young man who survived being drugged and robbed, that he had maybe “fallen asleep” and then been robbed.
“Who falls asleep in your apartment with two strangers there?” the father said.
Warrants were issued March 24 for the arrest of three of the men in the crew operating in the Hell’s Kitchen area for first-degree murder, while all six men have been hit with charges of grand larceny and first-degree robbery as well as conspiracy to drug and rob at least a dozen victims.
Umberger, 33, and Ramirez, 25, died from “acute intoxication” from a mix of fentanyl, cocaine, ethanol and other drugs, the city Medical Examiner found on March 3.
Both men were victims of homicides caused by “drug-facilitated thefts,” after leaving the Q NYC and Ritz Bar and Lounge gay nightclubs, the ME found.
The city medical examiner determined that Gallagher died from acute intoxication from the combined effects of fentanyl, ethanol and the designer opioid p-Fluorofentanyl.
Umberger, a Washington, DC, political consultant, disappeared on Saturday, May 28, 2022, after a night out at The Q NYC, a gay nightclub at 795 Eighth Ave., while visiting New York for work.
His credit card was used around 3 a.m. at the club and he was last seen an hour later on a surveillance camera, with three unidentified men in a car outside the Upper East Side townhouse where he was staying.
His body was found there four days later, on June 1.
Umberger’s cellphone and credit cards were missing. More than $25,000 had been transferred out of his accounts through cash apps on his phone such as Venmo and PayPal.
Five weeks earlier, on Thursday, April 21, and in similar circumstances, Ramirez, a Brooklyn social worker, was found dead in the back of a taxi on the Lower East Side at about 4 am.
An hour earlier he had been captured by a security camera with three unidentified men leaving the Ritz Bar and Lounge, a gay club on West 46th Street, two blocks from Q NYC.
Like Umberger, Ramirez’s phone and wallet were missing, and his bank accounts had been emptied of about $20,000 via apps such as Venmo and Zelle; later, his credit cards were maxed out on expensive dinners and spa services.
According to sources familiar with the investigation, one gang operated mainly in Lower Manhattan while the other focused both on Lower Manhattan and Midtown. They used similar methods to befriend and then drug and rob their victims, but authorities reportedly but don’t believe the two crews are related.
One gang chose certain locations “because there are a lot of good-looking girls there.”
The two gangs are believed to have been involved in at least 43 separate incidents.
A drag performer named Jaé, who performs regularly at the Ritz on 46th Street where Ramirez evidently met the men who drugged him, told The Post Thursday night that everyone there knows what happened to Ramires and is aware of the danger in clubs — but she still feels safe.
Clutching a Long Island iced tea in one hand while she stood by the bar and spoke over a Cube Guys remix of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Jaé said the Ritz is her “home bar” and her “therapy.”
“I’ve always been careful whenever I’m out and about even before all this,” she said. “I hold my drinks when I’m out because you can’t just trust who’s around you. You’re around strangers and you don’t know what their intentions are. Just be safe … But don’t stop going out and having fun.”
A Youtuber named Sky Santana who was standing near the now-shuttered Q club Thursday night said she believed that only gay people were being targeted and said she didn’t believe reports that straight clubgoers are also being victimized.
“They are going after the LGBTQ community, they are going after us,” she said.
Police sources said, however, that sexual orientation is not believed to be part of the gangs’ MO — just money.
A bouncer at another gay club in Hell’s Kitchen on Ninth Avenue, who asked to remain anonymous, said he and other club employees keep their eyes on customers at all times and don’t let them go into the bathroom together or leave drinks unattended.
“We watching,” he said.
Added the father of the young man who survived being drugged and robbed: “Everyone out there should re-consider whether unlocking your phone with your face is a good idea.”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino
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