A 74-year-old former innkeeper pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to profiting off four pimps who paid him extra so they could force enslaved women to perform illegal sex acts in the rooms of his New Orleans East motel, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office announced.
Kanubhai “Mr. Kenny” Patel admitted in a signed summary of the case that he was well aware but failed to report the violence and other forms of coercion that Granville “Bear” Robinson, Duane “P-Nut” Phillips, Anthony “Animal” Ellis, Laquentin “Nino” Brown and others employed on the adult women they prostituted out of his Riviera Motel, in the 6000 block of Chef Menteur Highway.
Patel, who bought the motel in 1979 and continued to live there after selling it in June 2013, benefited financially from “peonage, slavery and trafficking in persons,” charging the pimps higher rates to account for the heavy traffic, the summary states.
Even when the women asked him to call police, Patel remained silent so long as the pimps paid him, he admitted.
“After one incident, Patel learned that Robinson brutally beat a woman who was attempting to leave him. Robinson hit the woman repeatedly with what appeared to be a large piece of wood, while she screamed for help,” the factual basis states.
Patel also saw damage to one room that included a broken toilet and blood on the walls, he admitted.
“Patel agreed not to call the police after Robinson paid him for the damage,” the factual basis states.
Patel, of Kenner, and five Memphis, Tennessee, men were indicted last year in an alleged sex-trafficking ring involving a total of seven defendants.
Phillips and Christopher “Gutter” Williams pleaded guilty in April to sex-trafficking conspiracy, while Ellis pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count and a charge of transportation for the purposes of prostitution. Their pleas followed similar guilty pleas from Brown and Zacchaeus Taylor.
Only Robinson, 26, still awaits a trial. It is slated for Sept. 14.
Patel, also known as “Pops,” pleaded guilty to a count of benefiting financially from trafficking in persons. He is scheduled to be sentenced a week after Robinson’s trial date by U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance. He faces a maximum of five years in prison.
In a statement, the acting head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, said the federal agency “will not tolerate those who traffic in human beings or who benefit financially from human trafficking.”
Cindy Johnson, acting special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in New Orleans, described such prostitution rings as “modern-day slavery” and said her agency as a whole has doubled its human-trafficking arrests in the past two years.
Nationally, the federal agency logged 828 convictions on human-trafficking counts in the 2014 fiscal year, up from 381 two years earlier, according to ICE spokesman Bryan Cox. Louisiana figures were not immediately available.
The investigation was a joint effort of the FBI offices in New Orleans and Memphis, along with the Department of Homeland Security, Polite’s office said.
Patel’s attorney, Pat Fanning, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
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