California hotel owner accused of authorizing sex trafficking


BAKERSFIELD – Over the course of two years, California police have investigated seemingly unrelated crimes and disappearances: Bay Area teens allegedly abused by their pimp and “branded” with tattoos. A Central Valley woman whose 3 month old baby was kidnapped to force her into prostitution. A 14-year-old girl who ran away from her home in Los Angeles County and told a family member she made money by “cheating”.

These women and girls came from different regions of different origins and ended up with different men who were eventually identified by the police as their exploiters. But they all had one thing in common, officials said: When they arrived it was in the same location, the Desert Star Motel in Bakersfield, whose owner and general manager are now accused of essentially running a brothel. for all to see.

In court records filed Monday morning, motel owner Jatinbhai Naresh Bhakta and a man who allegedly worked as a nursery and handyman Roy Gene Drees were charged in federal court with facilitating “promotion, establishing or continuing illegal activities. ”- in this case, sex trafficking. Prosecution documents allege that Bhakta’s phone showed evidence that he had contacted hundreds of people responsible for posting nearly 30,000 prostitution ads.

The charges are the result of an investigation that began in March 2019, conducted by Bakersfield Police, and included undercover work, a pole surveillance camera and dozens of interviews with women and girls who were allegedly trafficked or agreed to prostitute themselves at the motel. According to an affidavit from an FBI special agent, the hotel appeared to authorities to “cater primarily to prostitutes and their potential clients,” and that it was rare to see anyone using the motel for a legitimate night residence.

Authorities wrote in court records that the motel was well prepared to be a brothel: it is a line of about 25 rooms, with a single entry and exit to its secure South Union Avenue parking lot. through a large iron door. Some, if not all, of the bedroom windows are barred up, which one alleged victim said scared her because it eliminated an escape route if attacked.

“Depending on the time of day, it is not uncommon to see most, if not all of the bedroom doors wide open with alleged prostitutes in lingerie standing outside, waving to drivers and approaching their vehicles. “FBI Special Agent David Hunter wrote. “Potential customers will park directly in front of the prostitute’s room of their choice, at which point the prostitute will immediately direct them into the room or meet the customer outside to arrange a deal.”

The investigation came to a head last week when a team of federal and state officials raided the hotel, rescuing 16 people, making three arrests and recovering three firearms, state forces said. order at a press conference on January 22.

The stories of some of the missing teens – a woman whose baby was reportedly kidnapped – and other alleged human trafficking victims who showed up at the motel are described in the prosecution files against Bhakta and Drees.

In May 2019, Merced officers investigating the disappearance of two teenage girls worked with Bakersfield Police to trace the girls’ cell phones to the motel. When the girls were detained for an interview with the police, one of them identified her pimp as “Diamond” or “Big Daddy” and said his name was also “D”. This was demonstrated by a tattoo on one of the girl’s faces: the letter D with a crown above it.

The girls then told authorities that they had traveled all over California, including Los Angeles and the Bay Area, with “Diamond.” They stayed at the motel for about 10 days and were doing traffic every day. He kept the money but gave them “food, clothing and grass,” according to Hunter’s statement. The girls told police he wanted them to earn around $ 500 a day, but didn’t seem “too worried” if they didn’t meet the quota. Over a three-day period, they brought him $ 10,000, they told authorities.

“Diamond” was then arrested at a hotel in Antioch and identified as Darnell Edwards, according to court records. He faces federal sex trafficking charges on a separate file, court records show.

In another case in January 2019, a woman arrested in a prostitution bite identified her pimp as a man from Fresno who “kidnapped her 3 month old son to use as leverage against her to coerce her to continue. to prostitute herself against her will, “Hunter wrote. The man and another alleged prostitute were later arrested for kidnapping, court records show. A month earlier, authorities raided a hotel room to rescue a woman who had been kidnapped in another part of California, according to the complaint.

Last December, a 14-year-old girl ran away from her home in Los Angeles County and reportedly ended up at the motel, where she told her sister that a man named “Jamal” had pimped her there- low. Hunter wrote that the young girl told her sister that she was making “a lot of money” from the “trickery” and that she had not cooperated when the police attempted to question her later in the day. months, according to the complaint.

Also in December 2020, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted and raped during an argument with her pimp, who disguised her as “sleeping” instead of facilitating “dates”. Part of this confrontation was reportedly filmed by a surveillance camera surreptitiously installed on a lamppost near the hotel. Another victim of trafficking allegedly asked for Bhakta’s help in taking the girl to hospital, but he replied that he did not want to put blood on the seats of his car, according to the complaint.

In an interview with police, a suspected victim identified in court records only by his initials – which this newspaper does not publish – claimed that Bhakta charged special fees for parts used for prostitution. While he asked for ID when she tried to book a room, he did not insist on the question when she refused and therefore never found out that she was a minor, reportedly said the girl to the police.

“(The girl) said that Bhakta would make the motel rules, which stated that if the girls fought with each other, they would be kicked out for three months. If the girls were beaten up by clients or their pimps, he wouldn’t do anything because that was “part of the game,” Hunter wrote. “(The girl), who claimed to have no pimp, said that (another man) tried to break into her room and asked her to pimp for him. When (she) complained to Bhakta, he told her to “take a pimp or a gun”. She said she feared she might not be able to escape the room if someone attacked her, as the rear windows were barred.

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