CLEARWATER – The lawyer for the Clearwater hotel is fighting back after the city’s Nuisance Abatement Board accused the hotel owner of not doing enough to stop drug activity on the property.
The city’s complaint against owner Amish Patel is based on more than a dozen hotel drug arrests. The arrests range from simple possession in the parking lot, to selling and trafficking in cars and hotel rooms, to the alleged manufacture of crack and methamphetamine in hotel rooms, police said.
City admits Patel cooperated with police by ensuring proper exterior lighting, granting police access to security camera footage, towing unregistered cars from hotel guests, constantly securing back doors of hotel rooms to discourage drug purchases and reporting suspicious behavior to the police.
But continued allegations of drug-related activity led the nuisance committee to hold a hearing on the hotel’s future on March 4. The committee, made up of seven citizens, contacts homeowners when police discover continued prostitution or drug activity on their property. The council can impose fines on the property and order Patel to reimburse the city for investigative costs and attorney fees, all of which could become a lien on the property if it doesn’t pay them.
The board can also close a harmful property, if the illegal activity is “inextricably linked to the business”. Meaning: if the owner is the one who performs the illegal operation. Police are not accusing Patel or any of his employees of criminal activity, Smith said.
Patel’s lawyer Shyamaie Dixit blames the city for the drug deals going on at the hotel. After all, Clearwater Police detectives and their confidential informants are among those who buy drugs in the hotel parking lot. Although they make arrests, Dixit argued, undercover police activity secures illegal drug deals on the property.
“This put my client in a proverbial Catch-22,” Dixit, deputy city attorney Matt Smith, wrote on February 21. Smith represents the city while attorney Thomas Trask is counsel for the nuisance council. “Sir. Patel and hotel staff openly assisted the police, and unbeknownst to my client and hotel staff, their assistance enabled the officers to make ongoing controlled drug purchases on the premises. the property.
Police recognition of Patel’s cooperation should lead the police and the city to drop the nuisance complaint against the hotel owner, but the police did not, Dixit argued.
“Rather than acknowledge the help of Mr. Patel and the hotel staff,” he wrote to Smith, “the Clearwater Police Department appears to have taken the position that my client should be held accountable for alleged illegal transactions arranged and consummated by police officers with individuals on the premises. “
After a review of city and law enforcement documents, an image emerges of a hotel owner trying to keep his family business running, even as police and criminals clashed over his property. Smith, however, says the police are not the driving force behind the crime on the property.
The police department – via the Nuisance Board – warned Patel, owner of the hotel by the nickname DEVOM LLC, to undertake improvements to end illegal drug activities there in a certified letter dated October 3. The town’s initial complaint identified the property as the Knights. Inn, but Patel has since separated from that company and changed the name of the Inn to Clearwater Hotel.
Five days after the initial complaint, Patel contacted Clearwater Police Lt. Michael Ogliaruso on October 8 to seek advice on stopping drug-related activities.
As Ogliaruso and Patel walked around the property, the police lieutenant examined interior and exterior lighting, including in the parking lot, and noted the location of functioning security video cameras. The front desk also opened its hotel registry for police review. When Patel offered to provide police with 24-hour access to the camera footage, the police officer described Patel in an October 9 letter to superiors as “very cooperative and will work with the Clearwater Police Department. to resolve the problems identified with its property “.
Undercover purchases continue
Police, however, continued to provide informants with money to purchase heroin, fentanyl, crack and other drugs on hotel property in the weeks after Ogliaruso walked the trail. land with Patel.
For example, on December 5, Clearwater detectives used a confidential informant – spending “City of Clearwater funds” – to purchase fentanyl on hotel premises. On December 12, a detective turned over city funds to an informant, who bought crack cocaine from a hotel guest near an outside staircase.
Again, on December 13, a detective sitting in his car handed an informant $ 60 in city funds. The informant then got into a second car on the hotel premises and bought crack cocaine. Then, on December 17, there were two separate purchases, and on December 27, the detective made his own purchase of crack for investigative purposes.
Dixit also disagrees with the police department’s claim – and the nuisance board – that his client’s hotel is the only focal point of drug activity near the intersection of US Service Route 19 and Gulf to Bay Boulevard. A vacant lot owned by the Florida Department of Transportation sits on the north side of the hotel, as does a strip club called Sinsations, Dixit argued in his letter.
Adjacent properties a problem
The vacant lot has a temporary encampment on it, and individuals “roam the surrounding properties, including the hotel,” Dixit wrote. “The club’s clientele often loiter and engage in illegal activity on surrounding properties, including the hotel, sometimes passing through a large gap in the wall behind the club.”
Patel’s attorney also argued that the nuisance council complaint did not clarify whether the drug suspects were hotel guests or simply intruders, transients or private citizens who parked their vehicles in the parking lot. from the hotel after police ordered them to pull over on the service road. Police also did not say whether employees were involved or should have known that the drug-related activity was taking place, Dixit said.
The lawyer said his client was an unwitting victim, not a bad actor.
“As a threshold, my client does not tolerate or condone criminal activity on the property,” Dixit wrote.
Smith, who represented the city’s police complaint against Patel in the March 4 nuisance hearing, said police were not the reason drug activity continued at the hotel.
“We weren’t in the process of making the deals,” Smith said. “The police act on the basis of the information given to them. At no point did the police say, “We want to smuggle drugs on this property. “
City: criminals were already operating there
The criminal element was already operating at the hotel, Smith said, sometimes staying in rooms and sometimes enjoying easy access, like the crack in the wall behind Sinsations.
“It’s one of the reasons it’s attractive,” Smith said. “It’s an attractive place to do business.
Is the city closing a commercial property where criminals operate, even though the owner is doing their best to prevent criminal behavior? The nuisance council seeks cooperation and not the destruction of a legal business.
“It’s a tough call for the town,” Smith said, “but I like to think I’m reasonable and always will work with someone, and the Chief of Police (Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter) will always work with them. “
Smith asked for more cooperation from the hotel during the March 4 hearing.
“In the concept, I, on behalf of the city, and Mr. Dixit on behalf of the hotel, will develop an answer. We have a list of things we both need to do, there are give and take. And although the city recognizes that there has been cooperation, it has not been total. “
For example, Patel has security cameras, but not all of them work, Smith said. The city would also like Patel to increase the barriers to enter his property and make other improvements, Smith said.
“I think all of my dealings with Mr. Patel and his lawyer have been positive,” Smith told the Beacon. “The thing we can do together is send a message to the criminal element: this will no longer be a good place to go. “