Man Pleads Guilty To Kidnapping, Conspiracy Charges After Using Grindr to Target Gay Men For Violent Crimes
Michael Atkinson, 24, pleaded guilty today to kidnapping and conspiracy charges in connection with his involvement in a scheme using Grindr to target gay men for violent crimes, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The Department of Justice will continue to protect individuals and communities from violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Department will continue to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.”
“The Northern District of Texas will not tolerate criminals who single out victims based on their sexual orientation,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen despicable crimes committed on apps like Grindr. I want to urge the public to be vigilant online and recognize the dangers that are lurking there.”
“Michael Atkinson targeted the victims in this case because of their sexual orientation. Hate crimes affect not only the victims, but also have a devastating impact on their families and an entire community,” said Michael Schneider, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Dallas Division. “The FBI works tirelessly with our federal, state, and local partners to thoroughly investigate many types of hate crimes, hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions, and bring justice to the victims.”
According to his plea papers, Mr. Atkinson admitted to joining a conspiracy to use Grindr, a social media dating platform, to lure gay men to areas around Dallas, including a vacant apartment, for robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, and hate crimes.
On Dec. 11, 2017, Atkinson reached out to one co-conspirator and asked to join the conspiracy.
Following this conversation, Atkinson brought a loaded handgun to a vacant apartment where the victims were being held captive. Upon arriving, Atkinson learned that a co-conspirator had sexually assaulted at least one of the victims and that a co-conspirator had wiped human feces and urinated on another victim.
Atkinson remained with the conspirators and allowed a co-conspirator to use his handgun to hold victims in the apartment against their will. Atkinson and a co-conspirator then took one of these victims at gunpoint to the victim’s home in an attempt to steal the victim's property.
According to the plea papers, Atkinson witnessed a co-conspirator assault one victim and call the victim gay slurs. In addition, Atkinson admitted to going to local ATMs to withdraw cash from the victims’ accounts.
Atkinson faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison for the kidnapping charge and five years in prison for the conspiracy charge, and a fine of up to $250,000 with respect to each offense. The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI’s Dallas Field Office conducted the federal investigation with the assistance and cooperation of the Dallas Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Dana of the Northern District of Texas and Trial Attorneys Rose E. Gibson and Kathryn Gilbert of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.
Read the indictment release here.