Suspect in robberies of 21 men he met through Grindr gay hookup app arrested by FBI
J.S. met Derrick Patterson in March on Grinder, the gay sex hookup site, and invited him to his room at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
Shortly after his arrival, Patterson asked if he could watch porn on J.S.’s mobile phone, according to the FBI. J.S. gave him the phone, but he soon suspected Patterson was locking himself out of the device on purpose.
He wanted to watch J.S. type in the four-digit passcode — the same passcode J.S. used for online banking.
The encounter quickly soured: Patterson threatened to shoot J.S. and stole his phone and wallet, FBI agent George Maloney alleged in court papers. Within hours, Patterson started draining J.S.’s accounts, making $600 in ATM withdrawals and taking $1,800 by Venmo and $2,000 by Zelle, the agent said.
It was the 21st time in just over two years that Patterson, 22, had robbed men who saw his profile on Grindr and invited him into their homes or hotel rooms for sex in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, according to the government.
FBI agents arrested Patterson in Inglewood on Monday on a federal robbery charge. His attorney, Adithya Mani, did not respond immediately to an email requesting comment.
The case is a cautionary tale of the risks people take when they open the door to strangers for a hookup on the basis of a few photos and a quick chat online.
It also highlights the security perils of smartphones when they are stolen by a thief who knows the passcode. As recently as last week, Maloney said, Patterson was still charging Lyft rides to a victim whose phone he is accused of stealing in August 2021.
Patterson, who lives in Compton, threatened some of the men with a gun, knife or Taser, according to court documents. Victims told police they feared he would kill them. He hit one of them in the back of the head, and he gashed the chest of another with a kitchen knife, according to the FBI.
Several of the victims told authorities they believed Patterson was targeting gay men as a hate crime; one specified a homophobic slur he used. Some also said Patterson was watching straight porn on their phones at the beginning of their encounters.
In a request for court approval of the arrest and a search warrant, Maloney said he was seeking evidence not just of robbery, extortion and fraud, but also the causing of a bodily injury because of sexual orientation.
The 21 robberies were detailed in a 38-page statement by Maloney that prosecutors filed in U.S. District Court. Victims were identified only by their initials. All of them had met Patterson on Grindr.
The first robbery occurred in November 2019 on 120th Street in Los Angeles. When the victim refused to give him money, Patterson sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, hit him in the face with the can, grabbed him by the neck, punched him in the face and pepper-sprayed him, the FBI agent alleged.
During an October 2020 robbery on Wilcox Avenue in Los Angeles, an Amazon security camera in the kitchen captured Patterson rummaging through the apartment and threatening the victim with a stun gun, the agent wrote.
A couple of weeks later, Patterson threatened another victim with a Taser at the man’s home on Reading Avenue in Los Angeles, according to the FBI.
“I’m not leaving here without any money,” Patterson reportedly told the victim.
Terrified, the victim went into a bathroom and called police. Officers found Patterson hiding under a vehicle parked outside, but he ran away, according to court documents. A while later, a police dog found Patterson in the victim’s front yard, and the LAPD arrested him.
By then, Patterson had committed eight of the 21 Grindr robberies, yet he was “released from custody,” the FBI affidavit says without explanation.
Prosecutors declined to pursue a case against Patterson “due to insufficient evidence,” said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
When he was arrested, however, Patterson was carrying two $20 bills and a $5 bill that were consistent with cash taken from the victim’s home, and police found a stun gun near the spot where he was captured, according to the FBI.
The victim believed Patterson was “targeting gay men and that he is a victim of a hate crime,” Maloney wrote.
The FBI suspects Patterson was working with at least one accomplice. In a January 2022 robbery in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard, Maloney said, Patterson refused to give back the victim’s phone after requesting to use it to watch porn, and told the man: “I’m going to shoot you if you don’t give me some money.”
The victim screamed for help and offered to take Patterson to an ATM, according to court documents. Patterson called someone on the phone and said: “He said he would take me to the ATM, but he has to get dressed first. I’ll keep you posted.”
Patterson left with the victim’s phone. The man told the FBI that he believes Patterson managed to gain control of the phone by setting up the face ID to match his own face.
The victim eventually regained access to his iCloud account, Maloney said, and found about 300 photos and videos apparently taken by Patterson, including images of a driver’s license and Social Security card belonging to other victims.
Times staff writers James Queally and Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
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