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Lawsuit claims Florida hotels didn't stop sex trafficking

Posted at 3:17 PM, Feb 09, 2020

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Two Florida women who were victims of sex trafficking have sued almost two dozen hotels where they were forced to have sex, claiming the businesses did nothing to stop the illegal activity.

At the hotels around the affluent Naples area, women wandered the hotel hallways strung out on drugs and wearing little clothing, according to the lawsuit by the women who are only using their initials in the complaint.

The Naples Daily News reports that men cycled in and out of the women's hotel rooms, and when housekeepers cleaned the rooms they often found drug and sex paraphernalia.

The lawsuit seeks $100 million, and it was filed at the end of last year in state court in southwest Florida. It claims management at the 22 hotels did nothing to stop the trafficking in 2015 and 2016. Lawyers for the women said they delayed filing the lawsuit until last year's resolution of a criminal case that resulted in the convictions of two men on trafficking and prostitution charges.

“What surprised me about this case was how big it was and how open it was in a community like ours,” said Yale Freeman, a lawyer representing the women. “These hotels permitted open sex trafficking to occur at each of their locations.”

The hotels' owners told the newspaper that they never saw anything suspicious, and one owner called the lawsuit “a legal scam."

“If we do see it, we always call,” said Yogeshkumar Patel, owner of the Glades Motel, one of the hotels. “We’re always here. We watch everybody. We don’t allow in-and-out people. We don’t allow unregistered people to stay.”

Geraldine Conti, owner of Conty’s Motel, said she has never permitted illegal activity, whether drugs or sex trafficking, and she previously has worked with law enforcement to remove criminals from the property.

“I deny this completely. Never happened like this. Never," she said.

These types of lawsuits are relatively rare, said Linda Oberhaus, executive director of the Naples-based Shelter for Abused Women & Children.

Under a new state law, hotel, motel and massage parlor owners must train employees to detect and report human trafficking.

Sgt. Wade Williams, who heads the Collier County Sheriff’s Office's special crimes unit, said traffickers use a variety of hotels and motels in the Naples area.

“We have seen both lower-cost and expensive hotels utilized, though they do seem to prefer lower-cost hotels,” Williams said.

Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to the Florida Attorney General's office.