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'They're clearly high.' Undercover drug operation targets U.S. 19 motel

Deputies were called out to the Rodeway Inn more than 600 times in 2018. The motel was plagued by drugs and overdoses.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office conducted a six-month undercover narcotics operation that has so far resulted in 19 arrests for drug activity linked to the Rodeway Inn at 16405 U.S. 19 N in Largo. More arrests are expected.
Published Feb. 18

LARGO — For the past two months, motel manager Ashish Kanadiya said he's seen people passed out from a drug overdose in their rooms, called deputies numerous times to have people removed from the property and, at times, even feared for his life.

He's the general manager of the Rodeway Inn, where deputies said a six-month undercover narcotics investigation led to the arrest of 19 people on Friday. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said the motel at 16405 U.S. 19 N has been plagued by drugs and overdoses over the past year, and more arrests are expected.

Kanadiya, 42, said he had an uneasy relationship with the drug dealers who frequented the motel. There were times they got along. But when he had to call 911, he feared what their reaction would be.

"Sometimes I got scared, worried they would come out and yell at me and just point a gun at me," he said. "Their behavior is unpredictable and they're clearly high."

The operation was spurred by the volume of the problems at the Rodeway Inn, located along an industrial stretch of U.S. 19. There were 43 potential overdoses reported at the motel last year. Opioids, including heroin and its more powerful cousin fentanyl, have been largely responsible for rashes of overdose deaths across the state and country.

There were also a total of 641 calls to law enforcement made about the motel in 2018. Detectives started looking into the business because of that high call volume, drug tips and information from community-based deputies. The operation identified 28 suspects who face 140 charges.

Drugs were being sold in and around the motel, according to the Sheriff's Office. The investigation started in August and ended with arrests on drug charges ranging from the sale of crack cocaine and fentanyl to possession of heroin and Xanax.

Kanadiya has worked at the 82-room motel for three years and said there's a steady stream of customers, including industrial workers and snowbirds paying an average of $70 a night. But the rooms where he suspected drugs were being sold were like revolving doors, with people constantly coming and going. Often, more than five people would crowd into a room booked for just one. There were also many loud nights as people argued inside and outside the rooms.

"I was having to give all my effort here (motel) because an employee was always calling me about an issue," Kanadiya said.

He said there were many repeat customers, renting rooms times a week and sometimes. They tried to bar some customers, who would then pay transients to rent the rooms for them. He also saw some patrons who were arrested at the motel and then showed back up hours later.

There are nine more people awaiting arrest, the Sheriff's Office said.

Times staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report. Contact McKenna Oxenden at moxenden@tampabay.com. Follow @mack_oxenden

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