NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is making its first case under a new ordinance against a business owner in an effort to combat rampant drug dealing and prostitution on U.S. 19.
In June, the City Council passed an ordinance that holds owners accountable for arrests on their property. Mounting crime at a particular site can bring fines, liens and even business closures.
The first case is against Dineshbhai Patel, owner of the Travel Inn at 7532 U.S. 19. The Police Department has ordered him to appear on a nuisance abatement citation after four drug arrests at the property since September, three of which were cocaine-related busts.
Patel, who has owned the motel since 1995, said he is the victim of selective enforcement and kicks anyone out of his motel who is involved in criminal activity when he becomes aware of it. He said he is trying to sell the motel and had a buyer ready to close who pulled out when Patel made the city citation known.
"It's hurting my business," he said.
When the Times spoke to nearby business owners and residents, they decried what has been happening at the Travel Inn. Hookers make daily use of the access road to lure customers, and cocaine is readily available along U.S. 19, one woman said.
But all were too scared to speak on the record for fear of retribution. One customer of the motel came up to Patel and asked for a change of the "filthy" towels and air-conditioner filters in one of the motel's 18 rooms.
The Police Department says it's glad to have another tool to try to control a crime wave — especially on U.S. 19 — that has brought pleas from residents to clean up.
Patel is due at City Hall for a hearing on the ordinance violation Jan. 29.
He will be joined by the owner of the home at 6109 Georgia Ave., where a search warrant was recently served to break up a suspected marijuana grow house, according to Lt. Steve Kostas.
"We're not going to tolerate this kind of behavior in the city. We're going to take a stand and move forward," Kostas said.
Council member Jeff Starkey, who lives near the Travel Inn, pushed for the ordinance after his election last year.
He ran on an anticrime platform and said he is excited to see the city begin enforcing the ordinance.
"The prostitution and drugs on U.S. 19 are rampant, and people are tired of it. So I'm glad to see we are getting started on it," he said.