24-year-old Michael Atkinson and an alleged conspirator, Daniel Jenkins, posed as gay men on Grindr to lure men to a vacant Dallas apartment where they held them at gunpoint, robbed, and assaulted them, according to an indictment that was unsealed in January.
“Michael Atkinson targeted the victims in this case because of their sexual orientation,” Michael Schneider, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Dallas Division said in a press release.
The victims involved in the five-day crime spree range in age from 19 to 57, according to the initial indictment.
According to a press release issued Thursday, on December 11, 2017, Atkinson reached out to an unnamed co-conspirator to join a group using Grindr to target gay men for violent crimes.
According to his plea agreement, Atkinson met the co-conspirator at a vacant apartment with a loaded handgun where victims were being held captive. Atkinson told law enforcement that when he showed up he found that at least one of the victims had been sexually assaulted and one had human feces wiped on him and had been urinated on. Atkinson also said he witnessed a victim being called gay slurs.
Atkinson didn’t leave the scene and let an alleged co-conspirator use his handgun to hold the victims against their will. Atkinson and an alleged co-conspirator also apparently took one victim to the victim’s home to steal property at gunpoint.
Atkinson also admitted to going to ATMs and withdrawing money from victims’ bank accounts.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen despicable crimes committed on apps like Grindr,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a press release. “I want to urge the public to be vigilant online and recognize the dangers that are lurking there.”
In a separate incident, four men were charged with hate crimes after setting up fake Grindr profiles to target gay men in May 2017.
Atkinson faces a maximum of life in prison for the kidnapping charge and five years for the conspiracy charge, as well as $250,000 for each offense.