Tukwila motel owner sentenced to federal prison

by: Maria Guerrero Updated:

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SEATTLE - The first of three Tukwila motel owners whose motels were seized in a massive raid last summer is heading to federal prison.

Kulwinder Saroya controlled the family motel business. Federal authorities said he didn't just turn a blind eye to ongoing drugs and prostitution in Tukwila, he also profited from them.

Federal and local officials said the bust has led to a significant drop in crime.

On Aug. 27, 2013, more than 400 local and federal law enforcement officers raided three motels and arrested 22 people.

Among those arrested was motel owner Saroya.

In federal court Tuesday, Saroya, who came to the U.S. from India at age 19, cried and pleaded with the judge.

"I lost everything I worked for,” he said. "I was thinking money was everything."

"In many ways, he did live the American dream, but unfortunately, he built his dream on the backs of the most vulnerable," said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a press conference following Saroya’s sentencing.

Federal authorities said Saroya, his brother, Jaspal Singh, and Lakhvir Pawar turned a lucrative profit at the Travelers Choice Motel, Great Bear Motor Inn and the Boulevard Motel renting rooms to drug dealers and prostitutes and getting a cut of the deals made.

See photos from the massive raid here.

Saroya's home, vehicles, bank accounts and the motels have been forfeited.

In court, Saroya’s defense attorney said Saroya has a back condition that requires he wear a back brace and asked the judge to consider that in his decision.

Saroya has already served 196 days in jail.

The defense asked for an additional six-and-a -half months in prison and four months home detention.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour denied the request.

Saroya will spend one year and a day in prison, plus three years supervision after pleading guilty to operating drug-involved premises.

Durkan said other shady motel owners are on notice.

 "We're looking, and if we find you, we're going to hold you accountable," said Durkan.

She said her office has heard from other motels and residents with similar problems.

Attorney General Eric Holder called local and federal officials involved in the raid to congratulate them, said Durkan.

Since the raid, police said calls for service in the area have dropped 28 percent.

"Violent crimes which include homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assault have decreased 49 percent," said Tukwila Police Chief Mike Villa.

The city of Tukwila wants to buy the three motels as soon as possible, tear them down and build something positive.

As for the two other motel owners, they will be sentenced in April.

The government is still deciding whether to seek a year in prison for them as well.  

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