June 25 (UPI) -- Three Texas men have each been sentenced to more than a decade in prison after pleading guilty to using a smartphone dating application to target gay men with hate crimes.
The Justice Department said Thursday in a statement that the men admitted to authorities that they conspired since Dec. 6, 2017, to target as many as nine men in the Dallas area through Grindr, a social media dating app used by gay men.
The men admitted in separate plea agreements to having lured their targets to a Dallas apartment complex where they would hold their victims at gunpoint and threatened and abused them while other members of the conspiracy stole money from their bank accounts.
"These three men participated in and committed acts of violence against innocent victims because they believed the victims were gay men," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said. "This type of bias-motivate violence runs contrary to our values and violates our federal civil rights laws."
Michael Atkinson, 28, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, Darryl Henry, 24, was given a 20-year sentence and Pablo Ceniceros-Deleon, 21, was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Atkinson and Henry used the application on Dec. 11, 2017, to lure five men to a vacant Dallas apartment where they would be held a gunpoint.
According to their plea deals, Henry admitted to using violence and threats to hold their victims in a backroom of the apartment while Atkinson and Ceniceros-Deleon admitted to driving their victims' cars to local ATMs to steal money from their bank 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," the Justice Department said.
Atkinson pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges on March 28, 2019. Henry pleaded guilty to one count of committing a hate crime and one count of conspiracy to commit a hate crime on Dec. 12, 2019, the same day Ceniceros-Deleon pleaded guilty to one count of committing a hate crime, one count of carjacking and one count of using a firearm in relation to a hate crime.
A fourth conspirator, Daniel Jenkins, 22, pleaded guilty on June 2 to one hate crime count, one hate crime conspiracy count, kidnapping, carjacking and one count of using a weapon during a hate crime, and he is the final conspirator to be sentenced, which is scheduled to occur on Oct. 6.
"These defendants brutalized multiple victims, singling them out due to their sexual orientation," said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah for the Norther Distric of Texas. "We cannot allow this sort of violence to fester unchecked."