Their reign of terror is over.
Three men allegedly behind a series of robberies in which they drugged, stole and even killed members of the LGBTQ+ community over a year-long period have all finally been locked up, city officials and NYPD brass announced Tuesday.
Cops cuffed the last remaining suspect in a conspiracy ring that police and the DA’s office charge left John Umberger and Julio Ramirez dead after they were drugged during separate nights out in the Big Apple. Jayqwan Hamilton, 35, was brought into custody on Monday and joins Jacob Barroso, 30, and Robert Demaio, 34, who were also put behind bars last week for the string of robberies and deaths. However, police sources say Hamilton is considered the mastermind behind the deadly operation.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell joined Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Tuesday in police headquarters to announce the arrests, and expressed relief that the case was finally cracked.
“We’re hoping that these arrests will bring some sense of justice,” Mayor Adams told a conference room filled with journalists amid the rapid click of cameras.
According to Chief of Detectives James Essig, police are investigating the group for 17 similar incidents that occurred between Sept. 19, 2021, and Aug. 28, 2022, in which primarily gay men were targeted.
Male victims were offered narcotics or marijuana laced with two types of fentanyl while they were inside or in the vicinity of a bar, once they were drugged the perpetrators would take the person’s phone and transfer money into their own accounts. In some instances, the suspects also made off with personal belongings.
“There have been two overdose deaths associated with this case. Julio Ramirez, which occurred on April 21, 2022, and a John Umberger, which occurred on May 26 of 2022. In both cases, the medical examiner ruled those homicides on March 3 of 2023. It listed the cause of death as acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, the p-fluorofentanyl, cocaine, lidocaine, and ethanol,” Essig said.
Almost one year ago on April 21, 2022, Ramirez was approached outside of the Ritz bar at 369 West 46th Street by three of the perpetrators and together they entered a taxi. By the end of that ride, Ramirez had died from a drug overdose. According to Essig, the perpetrators took Ramirez’s phone and transferred money to different bank accounts to make purchases, including a pair of sneakers.
The second murder victim, Umberger was found in his apartment at 34 East 61st Street deceased after police responded to a wellness check. Upon further investigation, detectives found fraudulent charges on the victim’s credit cards and in the bank accounts they saw thousands of dollars of unauthorized Cash App transfers—connections were made when authorities found that this was a similar pattern to Ramirez’s death.
Essig stated that a video post this incident revealed a suspect, later identified as Jayqwan Hamilton using the victim’s credit cards to make numerous purchases. When reviewing surveillance footage prior to the incident, the other perpetrators are caught on video entering Umberger’s residence and leaving in a red Durango. Officials discovered that this vehicle was rented by perpetrator Robert Demaio.
“A search warrant was executed on a cell phone recovered from Robert Demaio. Among the results returned with two videos that depicted Hamilton and Demaio in the victim’s apartment. In another the victim is seen on the bed, apparently unconscious in the same pose he was later found deceased,” Essig said.
Five members of this drugging ring were indicted. Three of these perpetrators have priors, including Barroso who has nine priors, Demaio has four prior arrests, and Hamilton has 12 prior arrests, and were indicted for the murder of Ramirez. Hamilton and Demaio are also indicted for Umberger’s murder.
Law enforcement and the mayor were also relentlessly quizzed as to why it took so long to apprehend the trio. NYPD’s top cop assured the public that the case was a top priority. However, she also stated that the investigation was a complex one and took time to fully investigate the incidents.
Despite the deaths and loved ones left distraught, District Attorney Bragg believes the motivation is plain and simple: greed.
“The evidence supporting the conspiracy counts demonstrates that the defendants engaged in a concerted and deliberate scheme to harm innocent individuals. Their motive, we allege, was simple: to make money,” Bragg said.
“The defendants had no regard for whether the victims ever recovered from being drugged. And indeed, as was mentioned two of their victims never recovered. Julio Ramirez and John Umberger both tragically died as a result of a combination of drugs including two types of fentanyl. I cannot imagine how painful it is for the families and Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umbarger,” Bragg added.
Hamilton was brought into custody without incident in front of 241 8th Ave. by the regional task force. All of the suspects are being charged with second-degree murder, robbery in the first-degree, grand larceny, and identity theft.
“Nobody, nobody should have to worry about their safety and well-being when enjoying Manhattan’s vibrant nightlife,” Bragg said.
Bragg added for anyone who has been a victim of such a scheme to reach out to the DA’s helpline at 212-335-9040.