Motel declared criminal nuisance
Police called to Rodeway Inn 900 times since 2013
The Rodeway Inn, the South College Avenue motel that has for years been a persistent problem for police, has been declared a criminal nuisance property and could be shut down if the owners don’t fix the problems.
In court filings, the state attorney general’s office paints a bleak picture of the cheap motel just off Interstate 95: drug dealers living in one of the rooms, guests overdosing on heroin, and prostitution so rampant that even the former manager of the motel has been convicted of soliciting sex there.
In fact, the Newark Police Department has been called to the motel more than 900 times since 2013.
“The property is generally known in the surrounding community as a
location where crime occurs,” Roopa Sabesan, a state prosecutor, wrote in an April lawsuit against the motel’s owner.
The condition of the motel — where rooms start at $44 per night — has decreased property values in the area, burdened police and makes residents fear walking around the area, Sabesan added.
Last week, the motel owner, Bhavi Hotels LLC, signed a stipulation order agreeing the property is a nuisance and promising to abide by a number of conditions to avoid the motel being shut down.
“It is a sad fact that there are some business and residential properties in our state that, through neglect, serve as magnets for crime and require a disproportionate amount of police attention, and this motel has been one of them,” Attorney General Matt Denn said in a statement. “The operators of this motel are now obligated by court order to aggressively address the criminal behavior that has become a regular occurrence there or face being forced to close the motel if police calls, complaints and arrests continue.”
A pattern of criminal activity
The motel, located at 1120 S. College Avenue, is likely best known by longtime Newarkers as the site where college freshmen Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson dumped their newborn baby in the trash in 1996, bringing national media attention to Newark. At the time, the motel was under different ownership as a Comfort Inn.
However, it was a series of more recent, lower-profile crimes that spurred officials to take action. The state’s lawsuit against the motel described approximately two-dozen incidents of prostitution, drug use and other crimes occurring there. Some of the incidents described include:
• May 2015: Police arrested a prostitute and her two pimps, who were found in possession of 133 bags of heroin, plus marijuana and crack cocaine. Officers noted that the pimp’s son, whose age was not disclosed, was often present in the room while prostitution and drug use occurred.
• March 2016: Undercover officers responding to an ad on Backpage.com arrested a mother and daughter for prostitution. Officers recognized both as being known prostitutes.
• September 2016: Officers serving an arrest warrant at the motel found the suspect in a bathroom trying to flush a plastic shopping bag full of heroin down the toilet.
• November 2016: Responding to a call, police found a motel guest overdosed on heroin, Percocet and alcohol. Once revived, the guest told police he had bought the heroin from one of two drug dealers who reside at the motel.
• November 2016: An undercover officer responded to an ad on Backpage.com that promised a “two-girl special” and included a photo of a woman in her underwear. The officer was instructed to go to the nearby Boston Market restaurant, where he was met by the two women and directed to a room in the Rodeway Inn.
Perhaps most notable, though, is the involvement of Rekesh Naik, who at the time was a Bhavi Hotels employee and managed the Rodeway Inn.
Prosecutors allege Naik not only tolerated the prostitution occurring in his motel but also was an active participant in it. According to court documents, his role came to light after Newark Police conducted a prostitution sting at the property in March 2016.
“One of the individuals arrested stated that defendant Rakesh Naik had solicited sex acts from her, that defendant Rakesh Naik solicits sex acts from many of the girls who stay at the property, and that defendant Rakesh Naik is aware that the property is used to facilitate prostitution,” prosecutors alleged.
In June 2016, another motel guest alleged that Naik solicited sex from her in exchange for money, adding that she has had sex with Naik more than 10 times. Police arrested Naik, and he was convicted of patronizing a prostitute and given probation before judgment in Newark’s Alderman’s Court.
Earlier that year, Naik had been charged with unlawful sexual contact after allegedly touching a motel guest inappropriately, though the charges were ultimately dropped.
“The victim reported that defendant Rakesh Naik rubbed up against her and placed his hands on her breasts and rubbed them while he was vacuuming the victim’s room,” prosecutors wrote.
He was also accused of grabbing an employee’s buttocks, according to court documents.
The motel property also includes a standalone restaurant — now shuttered — that was no stranger to police activity.
It was once home to a popular diner, but its most recent tenant, Wize Guyz Sports Lounge and Grill, abruptly closed in early 2014, just a couple months after its owner was arrested when a brawl broke out during the bar’s Halloween party. The fight involved more than 30 people and left one customer lying unconscious in the bar with a fractured skull. The owner was charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly refusing to turn over surveillance footage of the incident.
‘So many problems down there’
Fed up with the high number of calls to the motel, Newark Police began pursuing the nuisance property declaration in 2015.
“We were having so many problems down there,” spokesman Lt. Fred Nelson said.
He said officers regularly patrol the parking lot and have conducted prostitution stings and drug buys there, but those initiatives were not solving the problem. The NPD’s Street Crimes Unit started working with the Delaware Department of Justice to file a complaint under the state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Act.
The law, enacted in 2000 and expanded in 2011, empowers the attorney general’s office to go after properties — both businesses and residences — where drug activity, illegal firearm activity, violent crime, gang activity or prostitution occur. Under Denn, the state has accelerated its use of the law.
“One or two properties with criminal activity can bring down an entire neighborhood and cause innocent residents in the area to live their lives in fear,” Denn said. “That’s why our office has worked so hard over the last year to target such properties.”
In April 2016, Denn’s office notified the motel owners it intended to file a criminal nuisance abatement action. A year later it did so, filing suit to ask the Delaware Superior Court to order the property shuttered.
Last week, the motel owners agreed to a series of conditions to prevent the closure of the business.
As part of the agreement, the hotel must install surveillance cameras, hire a security company to patrol the property at night, refrain from renting rooms on an hourly basis and post a sign stating the motel is a drug and prostitution-free site.
The owners also must obtain a photo ID from anyone who stays at the motel, ensure that everyone on the property after 8 p.m. is registered to a room, provide NPD with access to common areas and maintain a list of people banned from the motel. The motel must provide the list of banned customers to NPD and call police anytime one of those people comes to the property.
Naik, the former manager convicted of patronizing a prostitute, is permanently banned from the motel.
Any violation of the agreement will result in a $5,000 fine and possibly the closure of the motel.
‘I hope this sends a message’
Nelson said NPD has already seen an improvement at the motel, as the owners tried to solve some of the problems as the nuisance abatement process worked its way through the courts. In 2015, there were 500 calls to the motel, but that number decreased by about half in 2016.
“They’re attempting to cooperate,” Nelson said. “They don’t have much of a choice. They’re doing what they can to meet the criteria of the court order.”
A representative of the motel could not be reached for comment.
Councilman Jerry Clifton, who represents neighborhoods across the street from the motel, said the agreement is welcome news for the community.
“I understand from a management perspective, you can’t control everything that happens on your property,” Clifton said. “But there are some things you can do as common sense measures if you’re serious about having a hotel compatible with the surrounding community.”
Over the years, he said, he has heard constituents express concern about the Rodeway Inn, as well as the Red Roof Inn across the street, which is proposed to be demolished and replaced with a new hotel, convenience store and gas station.
He lauded NPD and Denn’s office for taking action against the Rodeway Inn.
“I hope this sends a message that we’re not going to tolerate this,” Clifton said. “The end game is to get a quality business that blends in with the community and is a responsible part of the community.”
Police have responded to the Rodeway Inn more than 900 times since 2013, prompting the state to declare the South College Avenue motel a criminal nuisance property.