Big drop in crime since feds seized Tukwila motels

Big drop in crime since feds seized Tukwila motels
Federal agents and local police are seen raiding three motels in Tukwila in August 2013.
SEATTLE (AP) - Police are pointing to a big drop in crime since federal authorities seized three troubled motels in Tukwila last year.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Tukwila Police Chief Mike Villa told a news conference Tuesday that in the six months following the seizure, service calls to police from the neighborhood fell 28 percent, violent crime dropped 49 percent and robberies across the city were down 18 percent over the same period the year before. Authorities haven't seen evidence that the crime was simply displaced to other communities, they said.

The owner of one of the motels, 42-year-old Kulwinder Saroya, of SeaTac, was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to a year in prison after pleading guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises. Two other defendants, including Saroya's brother, Jaspal Singh, are due to be sentenced in April.

Investigators said Saroya and his brother profited from drug dealing and prostitution that occurred at their Travelers Choice motel and Great Bear Motor Inn, charging a $10 entry fee for those seeking drugs or sex and collecting additional fees from dealers and sex workers based on the number of guests directed to their rooms each day.

About 400 law enforcement officials participated in the raids on the motels, with rooms being cleared simultaneously to minimize threats to police, Durkan said. Some low-income residents were displaced when agents shuttered the establishments; they received social services that had been lined up in advance, she said.

The cooperation of the investigators, paralegals and prosecutors who worked on the case earned them a congratulatory phone call from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about two months ago, Durkan said.

Saroya and Singh relinquished the motels; more than $265,000 seized from their SeaTac home and bank accounts; and a 2007 Mercedes Benz. They also forfeited the family home itself, where they lived with their families and parents. Saroya is a married father of two children. He immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1991 and became a citizen in 2001.

In all, authorities peg the value of property seized from the three defendants at $4.5 million, though the true amount collected by the government will be less than that once loans on the motels are paid off.

City Administrator David Cline said Tukwila hopes to buy the three motels, demolish them and redevelop the properties. They would be added to a six-acre parcel the city has refashioned into Tukwila Village, a senior housing complex with a small park and a regional library.

"We hope to build something better," Cline said.

Saroya's attorney, Robert Leen, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that he bought the motel as a legitimate business, but he couldn't make a profit because of the street crime in the neighborhood. Instead, Saroya decided to join the criminals at their game, Leen said.