July 1, 2015

Louisiana Motel Owner Pleads Guilty in Sex Trafficking Case

Today, a motel owner pleaded guilty to financially benefiting from a sex trafficking scheme operated out of the Riviera Motel in New Orleans in which multiple adult women were compelled to engage in prostitution, announced head of the Civil Rights Division Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Kanubhai Patel, also known as Mr. Kenny and Pop, 74, of Kenner, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to one count of benefitting financially from trafficking in persons.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate those who traffic in human beings or who benefit financially from human trafficking,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “We will continue in our steadfast determination to bring to justice not only those who use force and coercion to exploit other human beings—but also those entities or individuals who knowingly profit from these depraved acts.”

“This defendant callously profited from a sex trafficking venture that used force, fraud and coercion to compel women to engage in commercial sex acts,” said U.S. Attorney Polite. “These crimes often pass without detection because victims live in fear from physical abuse, threats and other forms of coercion. My office is committed to prosecuting individuals and organizations that profit from this illegal conduct.”

“This investigation and prosecution should serve as a clear reminder to all those individuals engaged in sex trafficking and those who profit from this heinous crime, that the full force of federal law enforcement, across geographical boundaries, will bring them to swift justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael Anderson of the FBI’s New Orleans Office.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that Homeland Security Investigations fights as one of its highest priorities via a coordinated global effort with the FBI and our state and local law enforcement partners,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Cindy M. Johnson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) New Orleans. “The results speak for themselves; over the past two years HSI has doubled its number of human trafficking arrests. HSI will continue to investigate and seek prosecution of these criminals while also ensuring the victims of this terrible crime are rescued and get the care they need.”

According to evidence presented in court and documents filed in connection with the case, Patel acknowledged that, in his role as the former owner of the Riviera Motel, he regularly rented rooms to individuals who are charged as sex trafficking co-conspirators in connection with this case, knowing they were pimps who forced and coerced women to engage in prostitution. Patel admitted that although he never personally recruited, groomed or coerced any of the victims, he benefited financially from the sex trafficking operation.

Evidence presented at the plea hearing and court documents establish that Patel would charge the pimps and sex trafficking co-conspirators higher rates than other motel guests, and would open the motel’s gate to allow the women to bring customers back to the hotel. Patel learned that members of the sex trafficking conspiracy physically assaulted women they prostituted, including one instance in which a co-conspirator brutally beat one woman with a large piece of wood while she screamed for help, leaving her with multiple lacerations and what appeared to be a broken arm. Patel also saw the damage that a co-conspirator caused to a motel room during a beating, including a broken toilet, a damaged sink and blood on the walls. Patel agreed not to call the police after the co-conspirator paid him for the damage to the room. Patel also knew that, in furtherance of the sex trafficking scheme, members of the sex trafficking conspiracy would take the women’s identification cards from them. Patel saw the sex trafficking co-conspirators possessing the women’s identification cards and using them to rent hotels. Patel did not report them to police as long as they paid their rent.

At sentencing, Patel faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for benefiting financially from participating in a trafficking scheme involving control of victims’ identification documents.

Five other defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the case. On June 25, 2014, Zacchaeus Taylor, 22, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and to transportation for purposes of prostitution. Laquentin Brown, 33, and Anthony Ellis, 26, subsequently pleaded guilty to the same charges on March 4, 2015, and April 20, 2015, respectively. All of these defendants are from Memphis, Tennessee, and each faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy and a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for transportation for prostitution.

On April 20, 2015, Duane Phillips, 29, and Christopher Williams, 30, also of Memphis, each pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy. They each face a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison.

Patel was charged in a second superseding indictment returned on Oct. 3, 2014, along with Brown, Ellis, Philips, Williams and Granville Robinson, 26, also of Memphis. Taylor was charged separately on March 28, 2014. Of the seven defendants charged in connection with the case, six have entered guilty pleas and Robinson is awaiting trial. An indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

This case was investigated jointly by agents from the New Orleans Field Offices of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, with assistance from the FBI’s Memphis Field Office. This case is being prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond and Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Civil Right Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.