To curb sex trafficking, prosecutors forbid Pomona motel from renting rooms by the hour
In a novel use of consumer protection laws, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Friday that the owner of Pomona motel has agreed to a court settlement that restricts his business and aims to stop sex-trafficking and prostitution at the site.
The owner of the motel, the Pomona Lodge, agreed to stop renting rooms by the hour and turn over security footage to law enforcement upon request, among other measures.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said the settlement represents the first time county prosecutors have used consumer protection laws to go after properties where sex is sold and people are trafficked. County prosecutors had charged that the motel was a public nuisance and its owners had violated business codes and the state’s Red Light Abatement Law — legislation written 107 years ago to shut down brothels.
The settlement’s terms will remain in place for four years, and the motel’s owner also will pay a $9,000 fine.
The owner, according to state business records, is Kanu Patel. His attorney, Frank A. Weiser, called the settlement “very reasonable.” Patel, who also owns motels in Whittier and Corona, was not the on-site manager of the Pomona Lodge and was as “almost like an absentee landlord,” his lawyer said.
Weiser said he believed certain aspects of the district attorney’s investigation presented grounds for a federal lawsuit, such as their sending undercover officers into motel rooms posing as sex workers, but ultimately, his client “didn’t want to fight.”
“He took care of whatever alleged issues they had, immediately,” Weiser said. “He was very cooperative, and he settled voluntarily.”
Two years ago, undercover investigators noticed troubling signs at the brown and tan motel on Holt Avenue in Pomona, sandwiched between a health clinic and a Jack in the Box. Pomona police know the area as “the Blade.” They regularly arrest dozens of men there, many of them from out of town, for soliciting sex acts from undercover police officers, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported earlier this year.
One city councilman, who said his own wife had been solicited at a pastry shop on Holt Avenue, lamented that Pomona had become known as a place to buy sex.
“If you’re a female in Pomona, someone will try to offer you money for sex. That’s what it’s become,” the councilman, Rubio Gonzalez, told the newspaper.
Prosecutors say the Pomona Lodge’s front desk clerk, Ravirajsinh N. Zala, rented rooms to sex workers and exacted a cut of their earnings.
Zala, 25, is charged with four counts of pimping and trafficking a minor for a commercial sex act. He pleaded not guilty to all four counts, and his trial is tentatively scheduled to begin later this month.
Weiser, the owner’s attorney, said the decision to charge Zala with felonies was almost unheard-of. In his four decades handling litigation in the motel industry, Weiser could recall only one other case — that of a motel owner in Long Beach — who faced a felony sex trafficking charge. The charge was ultimately dropped, he said.
Zala was laid off once he was charged with pimping, Weiser said.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a new release that the civil action brought against the motel should be a “warning” to owners of any property where sex is being sold. Lacey said her deputies will pursue anyone “who silently gave refuge to these criminals, disregarding their victims and benefiting financially from these crimes.”
Weiser said the terms of the settlement show that county authorities believe Patel can clean up his motel, noting they didn’t request the property be placed under a court-appointed receiver.
“If they didn’t think he could remediate it, they wouldn’t have allowed him to keep running it,” Weiser said.
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