2 NYC Robbery Crews Appear to Be Drugging People — Sometimes to Death, Officials Say

At least two separate NYC gangs are believed to be responsible for more than 40 drug-facilitated thefts, including some cases that turned deadly, two law enforcement officials say

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What to Know

  • Two men, a social worker and a political consultant from Washington, D.C., were found dead in separate incidents after leaving gay bars in Hell's Kitchen in 2022, both had thousands of dollars stolen from their accounts
  • They died of a toxic drug combination, their autopsies found; in July, an acclaimed fashion designer was found dead in her Manhattan apartment of another toxic narcotic combo -- those three deaths may be linked to two separate ongoing overdose robbery patterns, law enforcement officials say
  • Six suspects have been indicted in the first pattern; law enforcement officials say that crew is thought to be behind 17 robberies and the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger; the second is thought to be responsible for 26, including the death of Kathryn Gallagher

The NYPD and Manhattan district attorney's office continue to investigate what they believe are two separate robbery patterns where suspects use drugs to temporarily incapacitate or overwhelm more than 40 victims in order to steal money and belongings -- and people have died in connection with both investigations, two law enforcement officials say.

Six suspects have been indicted — some for murder, others for robbery — in connection with one of the patterns, known as Robbery Pattern 188, the officials said Wednesday. This crew is believed to be behind at least 17 robberies in Manhattan, primarily in the Village and Hell's Kitchen, and is thought to be responsible for the homicides of two men — Julio Ramirez and John Umberger — last seen leaving gay bars in the latter neighborhood.

The leading theory is the victims were targeted for money, not their sexual orientation, but the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force continues to investigate the potential bias factor as a precaution, the officials said.

The deaths of a social worker and a political consultant visiting from D.C., both of whom were robbed and killed after leaving Hell's Kitchen gay bars, were determined by the medical examiner to be homicides. NBC New York's Jessica Cunnington reports.

Two law enforcement sources said there have been at least four suspects arrested in connection to the robberies, but no arrests have been made in regards to the murders so far.

A second investigation, known as Robbery Pattern 90, is believed to involve a different crew that has robbed 26 people. There are several suspects in that case, which is going before a Manhattan grand jury, the law enforcement officials said. A spokesperson for the district attorney's office didn't immediately return requests for comment.

An NYPD spokesman declined immediate comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The two law enforcement officials said the homicide of acclaimed New York City fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher, which came by drug-facilitated death, may be part of Pattern 90. The medical examiner's office last week said Gallagher died of acute toxication by the combined effects of alcohol, fentanyl, ethanol and p-fluorofentanyl.

The 35-year-old internationally recognized designer, who had more than two dozen collections under her own label Katie Gallagher and showed at Fashion Week in both New York and Paris, died in July 2022. She had been working on a Fall 2022 collection at the time she was found dead in her Eldridge Street apartment.

Eight months ago, Kathryn Marie Gallagher was found dead in her bed with no obvious signs of trauma. Now there's a possibility her death could be linked to a citywide crime spree. NBC New York's Myles Miller reports.

The medical examiner's office said earlier in March that both Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, and Umberger, a 33-year-old consultant, died of lethal combinations of fentanyl, cocaine, lidocaine and ethanol found in their blood. The NYPD has said it was the lidocaine that would have ultimately incapacitated them.

Ramirez also had heroin in his blood, the medical examiner's office found. It determined both men died by drug-facilitated theft, suggesting they were drugged for that purpose. Both had their bank accounts drained.

Ramirez was found in a taxi in the early morning hours of April 21, 2022. He had last been seen leaving Ritz Bar and Lounge on West 46th Street with a group of men and they all got into a cab, though Ramirez was alone in the backseat when the driver realized he was unconscious. The taxi driver found a cop to report the unresponsive passenger, and Ramirez was pronounced dead at a hospital. Neither his wallet nor phone was on him.

Later, relatives say they discovered $20,000 missing from his accounts.

Umberger was found dead in late May of an apparent drug overdose in his employer's Upper East Side townhouse, where he was staying. Surveillance video showed him leaving the Q NYC club on Eighth Avenue, with several men propping him up. He also had money stolen from his bank account. Further details on that timeline aren't clear.

His mother, though, alerted cops he was missing and Umberger was found on June 1. She said his phone was gone, and his credit cards were missing, along with $25,000 from his bank account.

Umberger's mother, Linda Clary, said on Wednesday that the indictments do give her "some sense of affirmation" regarding the circumstances of her son's death.

"These people are predators and they’re looking for people who are alone, and they’re like a pack of hyenas who prey on the most vulnerable or isolated person," Clary said.

Julio Ramirez was enjoying a night out in Hell's Kitchen back in April, hours later he was found unconscious in a taxi on the lower east side.

NYC Robbery Crews Linked to Mystery Druggings, Deaths

Officials have said the deaths appear to be part of a string of people fatally poisoned with narcotics in what investigators say were schemes by criminal crews to incapacitate and rob people at NYC bars and nightclubs.

The killings — at least five in all, according to police — stretch back months and appear to be the work of different crews, operating independently but using similar tactics, police and prosecutors said in a December update.

Men surreptitiously slip revelers dangerous levels of drugs to knock them out, then take their wallets and phones, sometimes using their digital banking info to drain their accounts, officials said. In an earlier incident, Nurbu Sherpa, a 29-year-old chef, was found dead on the sidewalk after leaving a bar where he had been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Other men have come forward with stories about being drugged by strangers and waking up to find money gone.

Many of the crimes remain unsolved, but the Manhattan district attorney previously announced that one suspect, Allen Kenwood, of the Bronx, had been charged with murder in Sherpa’s death and in the killing of Ardijan Berisha, 26.

Berisha, of South Salem, New York, and a friend passed out on the sidewalk in July 2022 after drinking at a bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Kenwood drugged both of his victims with fentanyl, prosecutors said, then robbed them. He is accused in three other instances where victims survived. The status of his case wasn't clear Wednesday.

Anyone with information on the robbery patterns is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.

Police are investigating a mystery in Manhattan after finding a young profession unconscious in the back of a cab. News 4 Chris Jose has the exclusive story
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