Men lured through online dating, robbed and shot, Calif. deputies say

SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. (KCRA/CNN) - Investigators say at least two men were robbed then shot and wounded after falling for an online dating scam, allegedly perpetrated by three suspects.

Amit Chhoker, 18, Branden Lerma, 19, and an unidentified 17-year-old male are accused of setting up dates online then shooting and robbing unsuspecting men. Detectives say Chhoker would have conversations with the men on a social media platform before setting up a meeting.

"They’re speaking on a social media platform. She picks him up, drives him out to the location,” said Solano County Undersheriff Brad DeWall.

Amit Chhoker, 18, and Branden Lerma, 19, were arrested along with an unidentified 17-year-old male for allegedly setting up dates with the victims then robbing and shooting them.
Amit Chhoker, 18, and Branden Lerma, 19, were arrested along with an unidentified 17-year-old male for allegedly setting up dates with the victims then robbing and shooting them. (Source: Solano County Sheriff/KCRA/Hearst/CNN)

Investigators say Chokker picked up the first victim, an 18-year-old man, in April. The pair drove to a remote spot near Lake Solano County Park, where Lerma and the 17-year-old suspect were hiding and waiting, according to deputies.

"Once they got to that location, they started to become romantic, and then, quickly, these two males entered the vehicle,” DeWall said.

The suspects are accused of shooting and robbing the man then leaving him in the remote area. The victim was later able to contact law enforcement and get help.

Two months later, deputies were called back to the same location. Investigators say another young man had been shot after getting picked up by a woman he met online.

"We realize, not only in the same fashion is this executed, but the descriptions are matching and there's very similar patterns,” DeWall said.

Deputies say both victims reported being picked up by a woman they met online, who drove a green Land Rover.

"It kind of heightened our alarm that we had a pattern going on,” DeWall said.

A neighbor’s home security camera caught video of an SUV driving in the area the night of one of the shootings.

Investigators got warrants, and one of the victim’s cell phone’s “pinged” in a Woodland neighborhood. Deputies staked out the location, eventually spotting the green Land Rover and arresting Chhoker.

A search of the Land Rover revealed human blood, according to investigators.

Within two days, the other suspects were arrested. They are all being held without bail.

"Obviously, this could have ended very tragically - shot out in the middle of a remote area and left with no communication in the middle of the night,” DeWall said.

Deputies say they are working to determine if there are any additional victims.

Copyright 2019 KCRA, Hearst, Solano County Sheriff via CNN. All rights reserved.