Gay Atlanta man robbed at gunpoint in Midtown

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A gay Atlanta man was robbed at gunpoint outside a Midtown restaurant in a bizarre incident that included him being forced to buy his assailant a carton of Newport cigarettes.

Ali Rodriguez told Atlanta police that as he left Nancy's Pizza, near Krispy Kreme, on Ponce de Leon Avenue on June 25, his Jeep Liberty wouldn't start. When he got out of the SUV to investigate, a man appeared from underneath the vehicle. He claimed to have fixed it and demanded money from Rodriguez, who refused.

Then the man, carrying a screwdriver and wrench, put his right hand in his pocket and motioned that he had a gun. The assailant demanded that Rodriguez get in the car and drive him to a nearby convenience store.

“He got upset because I didn't want to give him money,” Rodriguez told Project Q on Tuesday. “My mistake is that I opened my car, my trunk and he came out from under the car and demanded some money. That is when he flashed the gun.”

Atlanta police and WSB, which reported the store late Monday, identified the suspect as 57-year-old Pedro Soto, who has several prior arrests.

When Soto allegedly forced Rodriguez back into the vehicle, he demanded to be driven to a nearby convenience store for a carton of Newports cigarettes, which police said cost $53.

“He demanded that I take him to get cigarettes,” Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez convinced Soto to follow him into the convenience store, knowing security cameras might capture him on video. It worked and security footage was provided to police and WSB.

“I wasn't scared, I was pissed,” Rodriguez said. “I knew right away what was going on.”

After they returned to the car from the Shell station at the intersection of Ponce and Monroe, Soto took Rodriguez's debit card, passport, driver's license and $300 in cash from the center console, according to a police report. He threatened to shoot Rodriguez if he turned around and then fled on foot, Rodriguez said.

“It wasn't right what he did, especially with the gun,” he said. “They haven't caught him yet but they know who he is. This is the first time he has gotten violent with someone.”

Atlanta police told Project Q on Tuesday that no arrests have been made in the case. Rodriguez said it took officers until 11:15 p.m. to respond to his 911 call, some 45 minutes after he was robbed. That delay, he said, allowed the suspect to get away.

“They could have caught the guy actually. I saw him walking on North Avenue. I called [police] and called them,” Rodriguez said.

Officers later apologized for the delay and told him it resulted from a miscommunication with a 911 dispatcher, he added.

Rodriguez, a fitness trainer and club promoter, said he doubts that Soto targeted him over his sexual orientation. Instead, he said his Jeep offers enough ground clearance that Soto could easily crawl under it and dismantle it.

“I think he just wanted money. He could target anyone. I don't think it was because I am gay,” Rodriguez said.

Police told Fox 5 that Soto has intensified his scam, which he's been attempting for years.

Atlanta Police Department’s Greg Lyon says Soto disables vehicles and waits for the owner to return.

“The vehicle won’t start and he’s like his own Triple A,” said Lyon. “He shows up and fixes the vehicle he just disabled.”

According to police, Soto has been arrested for pulling this scam in the past, but now the scam has intensified because this time he may have had a gun.

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