Los Angeles Times

Accused of luring victims with app

Prosecutor says man used Grindr to set up dates that turned into robberies.

- By James Queally

A Compton man has been charged with using the hookup site Grindr to lure more than 20 gay men into dates that tuned into robberies, sometimes at knife point, over the past two years, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Derrick Patterson, 24, was charged with more than 30 counts of robbery, burglary, grand theft and assault, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Patterson pleaded guilty last year to federal charges stemming from similar behavior, but the media attention surroundin­g his arrest led other victims to come forward, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Ceballos.

The robberies took place between March 2020 and March 2022, ending just weeks before Patterson was arrested in Inglewood last year. In at least two incidents, Patterson attacked

his victims with a knife, prosecutor­s allege.

Ceballos said Patterson used a profile with a different person’s picture to arrange hookups with men in their homes. Oftentimes, he’d tell his victims he needed to use their cellphones to watch porn to get aroused, Ceballos said. Once he had access to their phones, Patterson would use payment apps such as Venmo to send himself money or send money to the accounts of other victims whose phones he’d stolen, according to Ceballos.

“When the victims started getting alerts on their credit card, Venmo, PayPal, a lot of these transactio­ns were being made through other victims,” he said.

Sometimes Patterson would order the men to leave their doors unlocked and wait for him in a bedroom, then begin ransacking their homes. In cases in which victims realized Patterson’s intentions were criminal rather than sexual, Ceballos said, he would threaten them or claim he had accomplice­s waiting outside who would lay waste to their homes if they didn’t comply.

Ceballos filed a hate crime enhancemen­t against Patterson, noting he would specifical­ly target gay victims because he believed they were “soft targets” and sometimes used anti-gay slurs during the attacks. In some cases, Patterson would have sex with the victims and steal money by using their phones during intercours­e, Ceballos said.

Federal prosecutor­s announced Patterson’s arrest in April and laid out allegation­s involving 21 victims, but only five of those victims levied allegation­s that fell within federal jurisdicti­on, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, who said his office worked closely with L.A. county prosecutor­s.

Patterson ultimately received a nine-year federal prison sentence as part of a plea deal. He was transferre­d out of federal custody to Los Angeles for an arraignmen­t last week, where he pleaded not guilty. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 60 years in prison, Ceballos said.

Ceballos also expressed frustratio­n with Grindr. He said the app was not responsive after several victims raised safety concerns about Patterson’s account and claimed that when police obtained a search warrant for informatio­n about Paterson’s account, the app said it had nothing to turn over.

While he did not directly address Ceballos’ complaints, a spokesman for Grindr said the company takes all reports of abuse seriously and cooperates with law enforcemen­t.

“We encourage users to be careful when interactin­g with people they do not know,” said the spokesman, Patrick Lenihan. “We encourage our users to report improper or illegal behavior either within the app.”

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