Man jailed for 11 years for drugging and robbing men he met on Grindr

A piece of police line tape
(Image: Pixabay)

An investigation by Met officers has led to a significant jail sentence of 11 years for a man who conspired to commit aggravated burglary, drugging and stealing high-value possessions from four victims using the sleeping drug zolpidem.

Brandon Conrado-Gamboa, 29, a Colombian national of no fixed address in the UK, was sentenced today (Friday 24 May, 2024) for conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

Officers responded to reports from victims across London who were targeted through Grindr between 31 December and 9 January 2023 in Brentford, Hampton, Hounslow and Bromley. Gamboa was apprehended at Gatwick Airport on 23 February.

A mug shot of a man
Brandon Conrado-Gamboa (Image: Met Police)

His accomplice Nelson Alexander Escobar Porras is still wanted, and is believed to be in Barcelona, Spain. The Met and Crown Prosecution Service are working with Spanish Authorities to extradite Porras back to the UK.

Police Constable Sade Kujore-Taylor, who led the investigation, said in a statement: “Both men maliciously preyed on victims using a dating app and exploited their trust. My team worked long hours in a bid to gather evidence against Gamboa, which left no doubt of guilt in the jury’s mind.”

“We put our LGBT+ community liaison officers straight to the victims”

Detective Chief Inspector Dan O’Sullivan, LGBT lead for the South West boroughs of London, who advised around the case, told Attitude: “We had four different offences across South London; we did some analytical work and quickly linked the offences.”

“We put our LGBT+ community liaison officers straight to our victims,” he then explained, “rather than deploy a [regular] detective who doesn’t have the knowledge or understanding of the victimology.”

CCTV still of a man in front of a desk in a shop
A CCTV still (Image: Met Police)

This was key to gaining “rapport and respect” with the victims, said O’Sullivan, and to understanding “what the offending pattern was. Very quickly, we pulled together a dedicated team; CCTV, ANPR [automatic number-plate recognition].”

“There was evidence to suggest both the defendant and the suspect, who’s still outstanding, are both gay men,” explained O’Sullivan. However, there was nothing to indicate Conrado-Gamboa and Porras were partners. “But I would suggest they were friends, associates.”

O’Sullivan said they used Grindr as “a powerful tool, to identify vulnerable victims,” including men who might not want to discuss their sex lives with police officers, perhaps for reasons of being closeted.

“I have no doubt there are other victims out there,” he continued. “When we got into the detail of the investigation, it was clear that they’d targeted other people. But we couldn’t ascertain whether they’d met up and whether an offence had occurred.”

Metropolitan Police advice on meeting people you’ve connected with online

* Tell someone – a friend, housemate or family member – if and when arrangements to meet are made
* Get a phone number and a live photo/video 
* Migrate from social media apps to a messaging app for additional security 
* Get as much verifiable information from the person as possible 
* Hide your valuables 
* Pour your own drink and keep it in sight 
* Reverse Google image search to establish any potential scams 
* Trust your instincts

“Grindr were really helpful”

Asked if Grindr helped in the investigation, O’Sullivan said: “Yes. […] They were actually really helpful. We were able to pull all that information and present it at court.”

Speaking about the victims, he said: “Some have been really affected by it. One of the victims has ended up losing their job [due to] mental health issues. Breakdown, can’t sleep, insomnia. When you think about what’s happened there: somebody’s woken up eight hours later and are in a total state of shock and gone to hospital. It’s life changing.”

Giving insight into the scale of the robberies, he said: “They were stealing phones, laptops, a car, clothing, any property at all. They were then going on to use their credit cards, selling stolen goods. They were really organised, bearing in mind they’d only just flown into the country. They knew exactly what they were going to do. They’d done fake Grindr profiles. They were highly sophisticated individuals.”

A statement from Karen Tyrell, CEO of the charity Drinkaware on today’s sentencing

“Our research shows that LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to be ‘physically threatened’ and have ‘police contact,’ as a result of other peoples’ drinking, compared to non-LGBTQ+ adults, highlighting their disproportionate vulnerability.   

“The work of the police in tackling crimes that affect the LGBTQ+ community is really important and successful prosecutions help encourage people to come forward, and report if they have been a victim of a crime, like drink spiking. 

“It is important that everyone knows what to do and reports of spiking are taken seriously. If you are worried, you can find out more on our website, Drink spiking and date rape drugs | Drinkaware.”

Members of the public can anonymously report spiking incidents online for themselves or others through the Metropolitan Police’s Report Spiking page.

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