Although heavily redacted, three applications for search warrants unsealed Monday appear to reveal why federal agents were investigating a pair of Mobile-area hotels whose owners or operators were indicted in October, along with 39 other defendants who prosecutors dubbed the Crossley Hills Drug Trafficking Organization.
In federal court records, the applications were filed with numbers corresponding to the addresses of the Regency Inn in Tillman’s Corner and the Star Motel in Prichard, as well as a residential address owned by Paresh Patel, one of the co-conspirators named in the indictment. Except for a couple of instances, the names of the hotels are redacted, but the facts listed in an accompanying probable cause affidavit mirror those outlined by investigators during a press conference held the day the indictment was unsealed.
Allegedly, the investigation was launched after the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces (CEHTTF) “received information regarding a possible human-trafficking organization.” At the 30-room Star Motel, 1085 S. Bessemer Ave. in Prichard, agents observed “frequent and heavy traffic in and out of the enclosed parking lot on many nights, which would last well after 2 a.m.”
An undercover investigation found the Star Motel had “a continuing circulation of one-hour room rentals,” while “the rooms have hardcore pornography continuously playing on the televisions and the front office sells condoms for $2 each.” When an undercover officer inquired about renting a room for an entire night, a representative of the motel refused, explaining they “made too much money renting by the hour to give up the rooms for an entire night’s rental.”
Further investigation unearthed drug paraphernalia in the motel’s garbage, while 911 call logs revealed 22 calls for service to the address between March 2018 and March 2020, one of which was related to an overdose death on Feb. 23, 2019.
At the much larger Regency Inn, at 5488 Inn Road in Tillman’s Corner, it appears agents gained the confidence of a confidential witness who worked at the property for more than six years. The witness admitted the owners were aware of the drug use and prostitution on the premises, but did “little to change the situation.”
But at one point, the owners allegedly hired an armed constable who was “employed in a law enforcement capacity by Mobile County.” However, “the constable quickly became involved in the criminal activity to the extent of renting out his own room for the prostitutes to use and having sex with the prostitutes himself.” The constable was fired by the hotel after four months and was not replaced, the affidavit claims.
A second witness at the Regency Inn “spoke about the dangerous working conditions related to the criminal activity and exposure to used needles” while a third witness corroborated and suggested the owners’ “only concern appears to be in getting the money from the facility.” Over time, the building fell into such disrepair that only 16 of its 98 rooms were operational.
In August and September of 2019, the FBI conducted two undercover operations at the Regency, where agents “attempted to integrate themselves into the culture at the hotel by appearing to run their own human-trafficking operation.” While specific details of the operation were not disclosed, the affidavit claims the hotel staff did not require proof of identification to rent rooms, the rooms were available at an hourly rate, and the rooms were not cleaned between rentals.
Allegedly, an undercover agent spoke to the unnamed constable, who admitted he was “running girls” himself and the agent could rent rooms from the constable directly because he had a master key to all the rooms.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, who has expressed frustration with the lack of accountability among constables in the past, clarified they “do not work for Mobile County … There is no oversight of them but for the electors.”
A total of 368 calls for service were made to 911 from the Regency Inn between January 2018 and January 2020, two of which were overdose deaths. Four additional overdose calls were made, but the victims survived. Of the others, approximately 50 calls for service were related to controlled substances and 36 were related to prostitution. Meanwhile, 13 calls related to brandishing a firearm while the remainder “consisted of trespassing, violence/domestic violence and/or property crimes,” according to the affidavit.
A separate portion of the application appears to analyze the finances of the hotel owners and/or operators, who registered the Regency under a corporation named Shiv Sai of Tillman Corner Inc. and the Star Motel under a corporation named KMK Hospitality Inc. Patel is associated with both, according to probate and state business records.
Paresh Patel was named along with Jaikumar Patel and Mitesh Desai in the indictment for “maintaining a drug-involved premises.” All three have pleaded not guilty and their trial dates have initially been set for June 1, 2021. If found guilty, sentencing guidelines allow prison terms “up to” 20 years and penalties of “not more than” $500,000. Prosecutors have also indicated they may also seek the forfeiture of certain property related to the investigation.
James Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the investigation continues and certain details cannot be disclosed at this time. However, “the Regency Inn was closed by the owners, and that to the best of our knowledge the Star Motel is still open.”
Attorney Jeff Deen, who is representing Jaikumar Patel, ordered a grande chai tea latte with a shot of Stevia while he was on the phone with a reporter Tuesday morning and quoted Shakespeare in response to the affidavit:
“There is a written scroll! I’ll read the writing.
All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Fare you well; your suit is cold”
Deen said his client had a minor ownership in the Regency Inn, suggesting his role was simply to invest in distressed properties, fix them up, then turn around and sell them for a profit.
“We will contest all criminal liability responsive to the indictment,” he said.
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