Hotels target of police sting
Six month surveillance nets 16 arrests following complaints of prostitution, drug trafficking
Chris Rossi/The Gazette
A South Silver Spring motel that has been a haven for drug trafficking and prostitution will undergo a massive security overhaul, after a six-month, state-funded police surveillance detail led to more than a dozen arrests.
Between 2005 and May 2008, police have made 178 arrests stemming from incidents at the Days Inn and Travelodge motels located at 8040 13th St., according to statistics from the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office. Those crimes included drug trafficking, sexual assault, illegal possession of firearms and a prostitution ring in which teenage girls were learning sexual behavior from pornography they viewed in their pimp's car and then servicing men in the rooms.
"There's dead bodies, there's prostitutes, there's drugs, it's pretty awful what's in there," Assistant State's Attorney for Montgomery County Maura Lynch said, referring to a large binder that contains evidence from crimes at the hotels. Lynch presented the binder Dec. 16 to the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association.
Through the state's Collaborate Supervision and Focused Enforcement program, or C-SAFE, the State's Attorney's Office and Montgomery County Third District Police were granted overtime hours to conduct surveillance on the motels, beginning in January. C-SAFE areas represent those with higher crime rates and receive additional funding from the state to support an increased police presence.
That detail led to 16 arrests, a comprehensive knowledge of the criminal activity at the hotels and a threat from the State's Attorney's Office that the property could be torn down unless a widespread security plan was implemented.
Implementation of the security upgrades began this fall, with a new camera system, rigid parking restrictions, criminal background checks on customers and monthly meetings between hotel management and law enforcement.
The security overhaul was the result of the threatened use of a Maryland statute – called a Nuisance Abatement Complaint – that allows a State's Attorney's Office or neighborhood association to file a complaint regarding a commercial property that is the site of frequent drug-related crime. The complaint can be reviewed in District Court and a judge can order the seizure of the property.
The State's Attorney's office originally met with hotel management to address the crime just after the detail began in February but were "stonewalled" by the former hotel manager, Daniel Owusu, from the Greenbelt-based Baywood Hotels, Lynch said. As the detail went on, the State's Attorney's Office and police gained evidence and statistics that supported ongoing complaints from residents about the crime at the hotels and began drafting a complaint.
"Some of the things seen and told were sad and shocking," said Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, who had met with Owusu as early as 2006 but did not know of the nuisance abatement statute until meeting with police in March.
"One of my neighbors told me about walking home from the Metro and being propositioned because they thought she was a prostitute," Glass said.
A 22-page complaint was drafted and presented to hotel management, along with police photographs of drugs, sexual assault victims and even dead victims of drug overdoses, taken at the hotel.
"We've got a hammer and the ultimate measure is seizure of the property," State's Attorney John McCarthy said Monday in his Rockville office, referring to the Nuisance Abatement Complaint.
Eventually Baywood hired an attorney to manage the situation, Owusu was transferred to another hotel managed by Baywood and a new manager, Joseph Oden, was hired in September. Oden had previously rejuvenated Baywood-managed hotels in Baltimore and has been far more cooperative with law enforcement, Lynch said.
Owusu could not be reached by e-mail for comment.
Representatives from the State's Attorney's Office and county police met with Oden this fall to outline the security overhaul. McCarthy said the complaint was used to put management "on notice" rather than actually threaten seizure of the property.
"I was shocked when I got here what they were telling me," said Oden, who was not at the Dec. 16 neighborhood meeting. He added that security changes were already in place when he arrived and criminal activity has been minor since.
The security changes should be completed by Jan. 1, Oden said. After that, law enforcement officials will review the effects of the security enhancements, the crime patterns over the past year and whether management followed the suggested security plan.
"No one has ever done this before," Lynch said of the use of the complaint statute. "… It's a very complicated business to keep a hotel secure."
Hotbed of crime
Within the binder Lynch brought to the Dec. 16 community meeting was a litany of offenses that have occurred at the hotels since 2005.
One case outlined the June 2007 death of a suspected prostitute in one of the hotel rooms after a drug overdose, according to court documents. Photographs showed the woman's body slumped over on the floor, nude and surrounded by condoms and drug paraphernalia. No arrests were made.
In July 2007, police had suspicions that a rape occurred at the hotel but were unable to make an arrest because the victim would not cooperate, according to another file presented by the State's Attorney's Office.
Another case outlined the use of the motel by Jaron R. Brice, a Washington, D.C., man who was convicted of illegal sex trafficking throughout the Metro area in 2006.
Brice used girls as young as age 14 to conduct a prostitution ring, at times using the Days Inn and Travelodge motels, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, which prosecuted the case. In his purple Cadillac, Brice would drive around the streets surrounding the hotels showing the girls pornographic DVDs in order to illustrate how to perform sex acts, according to information received by the State's Attorney's Office from federal prosecutors. They would then meet men inside the hotel rooms.
Other cases the State's Attorney's Office presented to hotel management and residents contained photographs of drug paraphernalia and women who had been beaten inside the hotel rooms.
"I had always heard of things happening there but I had no idea the scope until [the Dec. 16] meeting," said South Silver Spring resident Jimmy Obomsawin. "I was shocked."
Officer Joy Patil of the Third District said the proximity of the hotels to other jurisdictions and the opportunity for a quick getaway was a main reason for the hotbed of activity.
"It's cheap and easy to get across to [Washington, D.C.] quickly," Patil said.
McCarthy said the business records from the last two years show nearly half of the guests at the Days Inn and Travelodge lived within a one-mile radius of the hotel, suggesting many came there for criminal activity.
McCarthy said there is no telling how many more incidents were unreported or unsolved.
There were 16 arrests made during the six-month detail this year with about 22 grams of marijuana, 13.2 grams of cocaine and 55 grams of other illegal drugs seized between January and March. McCarthy said those numbers were actually lower than they could have been because the detail focused on surveillance as much as enforcement.
Within the Police Responding Area around the Days Inn hotel, 87 drug arrests, 13 arrests for assault and 14 arrests for vice law violations, which includes prostitution, have been made as of July 11.
In June, officers from the Third District Special Assignment Team, who were conducting the detail, arrested known drug trafficker Monroe Pierrelus of O'Fallon Street in Silver Spring for possessing and unlawfully distributing crack cocaine that he had picked up at the hotels and took to a deal near the corner of Piney Branch Road and Carroll Avenue, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
From previous responses to the Days Inn and Travelodge motels, police and the State's Attorney's Office knew Pierrelus and his cousins, Larry and Bobby Pierrelus, would pick up crack cocaine at the hotel and perform drug deals in the area.
Bobby Pierrelus was sentenced to 25 months in prison and three years probation upon release. As part of the probation, he is banned from the Days Inn. Larry Pierrelus was arrested in June 2007 for possession and distribution of crack cocaine and sentenced in May to 10 years in prison after repeated parole violations and prior offenses.
After being arrested in Nov. 2006, Bobby Pierrelus was convicted of possession of PCP and crack cocaine and served three months in prison.
The detail consisted of undercover work and surveillance, with undercover officers at times purchasing drugs from suspected dealers, Lynch said. However, the majority of the tactics the Special Assignment Team that conducted the detail used were confidential, she said.
In July, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention deemed the Days Inn and Travelodge detail a success and transferred the funding to a Special Assignment Team to work at Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring. It was not disclosed how much money was granted for the detail.
Lynch and McCarthy said law enforcement would continue to monitor the hotels but hoped the security overhaul would be the most effective measures in deterring crime.
"A lot of enforcement is reactive," McCarthy said. "This is something that is very proactive."