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Three Texas men sentenced to prison for using dating app to target gay men for violent crimes

Three Texas men were sentenced yesterday for violent crimes.

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Michael Atkinson, 28, Pablo Ceniceros-Deleon, 21, and Daryl Henry, 24, were sentenced to prison terms for their involvement in a scheme to target gay men for violent crimes. Atkinson was sentenced to over 11 years in prison, Ceniceros-Deleon was sentenced to 22 years in prison, and Henry was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“These three men participated in and committed acts of violence against innocent victims because they believed the victims were gay men,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This type of bias-motivated violence runs contrary to our values and violates our federal civil rights laws. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who target members of the LGBTQI community.”

“These defendants brutalized multiple victims, singling them out due to their sexual orientation. We cannot allow this sort of violence to fester unchecked,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah for the Northern District of Texas. “The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting hate crimes. In the meantime, we urge dating app users to remain vigilant. Unfortunately, predators often lurk online.”  

“One of the FBI’s top priorities is to defend the civil rights of the communities we serve. We actively work with our law enforcement partners to investigate hate crimes and achieve justice for the victims impacted by these violent crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Dallas Field Office. “The victims in this case were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. The FBI wants to reassure the public that we will pursue individuals who commit violent hate acts against any member of our community.”

According to documents filed in connection with this case, these three defendants admitted that they conspired to and then targeted as many as nine men in and around Dallas, Texas for violent crimes including kidnapping, carjacking, and hate crimes. Beginning on or around Dec. 6, 2017, members of this conspiracy used Grindr, a social media dating platform used primarily by gay men, to lure men to an apartment complex in Dallas. When the men arrived, the conspirators held the men at gunpoint and forced them to drive to local ATMs to withdraw cash from their accounts.

Atkinson and Henry admitted to joining this conspiracy to target gay men for violent crimes. On Dec. 11, 2017, the conspirators used Grindr to lure five men to a vacant apartment in Dallas where they held the men at gunpoint, kidnapped, carjacked, and assaulted them. As part of his plea agreement, Henry admitted that he used violence and threats of violence to hold the victims in the backroom and closet of the vacant apartment while other conspirators used the victims’ vehicles to drive to local ATMs to steal cash from the victims’ accounts. Atkinson and Ceniceros-Deleon admitted that they traveled in the carjacked vehicles to take cash from the victims’ accounts. While the victims were held at gunpoint, some were physically assaulted, at least one victim was sexually assaulted, and all of the victims were taunted with gay slurs.

In 2019, Atkinson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping and carjacking and one count of kidnapping. 

Ceniceros-Deleon pleaded guilty in 2019 to one hate crime count, one count of carjacking, and one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. 

Henry pleaded guilty in 2019 to one hate crime count and one count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping and carjacking. 

A final member of the conspiracy will be sentenced on Oct. 6, 2021. This final conspirator, Daniel Jenkins, pleaded guilty on June 3 to a hate crime violation; conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping and carjacking; and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Under the plea agreement, Jenkins faces a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison.

The FBI’s Dallas Field Office conducted the federal investigation; a separate criminal investigation is being conducted by the Dallas Police Department. Special Litigation Counsel Rose E. Gibson and Trial Attorney Kathryn Gilbert of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant United States Attorney Nicole Dana, are prosecuting the case.

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