Three men accused of macing then raping and robbing women they met online, through Backpage.com, are now in custody. Fernando Sandel was arrested on Friday while Isaiah Rivera and Joey Cruz were arrested last night, after the police asked the public for help in finding them.
The police released details about the three separate incidents, which took place in the Bronx and Manhattan:
1) On Sunday, June 28, 2015, at 2350 hours, the victim, a 20-year-old female, made arrangements to meet with one of the suspects on East 138 Street in the South Bronx. The suspects showed up, with one [other] suspect, and forced the victim to the roof of the location where they raped her and removed her money. The victim was removed to Lincoln Hospital where she was treated and released.
2) On Monday, August 3, 2015, at 1625 hours, the victim, a 34-year-old female, made arrangements to meet one of the suspects at the Grand Hyatt Hotel located at 109 East 42 Street. When the suspect arrived at the room, he sprayed the victim in the face with an unknown substance and threw her on the bed. Two additional suspects also came into the room where all three tied the victim up. All three suspects then raped the victim and removed her cell phone and pocketbook. The victim was removed to St Luke’s Hospital where she was treated and released.
3) On Tuesday, August 4, 2015, at 2240 hours, the victim, a 32-year-old female, made arrangements to meet one of the suspects at her apartment on Lexington Avenue in the Gramercy Park Section of Manhattan. When the suspect arrived at the apartment, he maced the victim and threw her on the bed. The two additional suspects arrived at the location and tied up the victim. All three suspects then raped the victim and removed her phone, laptop and bracelet. The victim was removed to an area hospital where she was treated and released.According to the Daily News
, Sandel was not involved in the June 28 incident. Sandel, 26, has reportedly been charged with rape, robbery, strangulation and unlawful imprisonment and is being held on $200,000 bail. Charges against Cruz, 26, and Rivera, 31, are pending.
The NY Times reports, "The women all had advertisements on Backpage.com, a website for classified ads with extensive listings for adult entertainment. The terms of the site explicitly prohibit soliciting sexual acts in exchange for money, but the site still contains listings to that effect."
New York State law requires that online dating sites post safety notices offering users advice on how to protect themselves, and sites including Match.com say in their terms of agreement that they do not conduct background checks, criminal or otherwise, on people who register for the site.
Backpage.com also includes safety tips, but the site has previously been sued by women under the age of 18 who said they were sold for sex on the site. The site’s terms of agreement say that users agree to report any illegal services or activity, and also to “report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities.” The site was owned by Village Voice Media until 2012, when the company, facing increasing scrutiny over the allegations in the women’s lawsuits, split from the site and created a new media company for its alternative weekly newspapers and websites.
Representatives for Backpage.com could not be reached on Sunday, but lawyers have previously said that the website scans for 25,000 terms and codes associated with prostitution, child exploitation and sex trafficking to prevent the ads from making it to the site.
Last month, the Staten Island Advance ran a sprawling, fascinating and depressing feature about the goings-on at a no-frills motel where a prostitute was killed; their photographer and reporter noticed a woman check into the motel—and then saw her Backpage.com ad pop up, promising, "available for incalls for a limited time... let us show you how a man should be treated!"