One of the accused hotel owners called the lawsuit “a legal scam.”
Two Florida women who claim to be victims of sex trafficking are suing a collection of Naples-area hotels, claiming the businesses did nothing to stop patently illegal activity.
The lawsuit alleges that drugged-out, half-naked women wandered the hallways of some 22 Naples-area hotels. Men cycled in and out of the women’s hotel rooms, most without reservations. And when housekeepers would do the rounds, they’d frequently find drug paraphernalia and sex-related objects.
According to The Associated Press, the two plaintiffs are now seeking $100 million in recompense. Both were allegedly victimized between 2015 and 2016. Their attorneys say they waited to sue pending the outcome of a criminal case, which saw two men convicted for trafficking and prostitution late last year.
Yale Freeman and Sharon Hanlon, attorneys representing the two anonymous women, suggested the case’s rough contours seem out of place in an area like Naples.
“What surprised me about this case was how big it was and how open it was in a community like ours,” Freeman said. “These hotels permitted open sex trafficking to occur at each of their location.”
“This is not just happening in some dirty part of our town,” he said. “This isn’t isolated.”
However, several of the hoteliers named in the suit have pushed back, calling the lawsuit “a legal scam.” Yogeshkumar Patel, owner of the Glades Motel, said he’s never tolerated prostitution at his property.
“If we do see it, we always call,” Patel sald. “We’re always here. We watch everybody. We don’t allow in-and-out people. We don’t allow unregistered people to stay.”
Similarly, Geraldine Conti, owner of Conty’s Motel, said she too has zero tolerance for any sort of illegal activity.
“We’re talking about honor now. I deny this completely,” Conti said. “Never happened like this. Never.”
But Freeman told the Naples Daily News that the women’s abuse was obvious.
“Nobody wants to admit they’re involved with sex trafficking,” he said. “There are opportunities now to report sex trafficking. People don’t. They don’t want to get involved.”
According to the Daily News, Freeman began investigating the case in 2017—and from what she could gather, it was clear that staff knew what was going on, with victims forced to provide sexual services to up to 20 men per day.
“In some of our cases it’s just so obvious that the hotel was participating,” Freeman said.
The Naples Daily News reports that most of the hotels listed in the suit aren’t strictly local outfits: many are associated with international chains, including the Hampton Inn, Marriott, La Quinta Inn and Best Western.
Sgt. Wade Williams, the head of the Collier County Sheriff Office’s special crimes unit, told the Daily News that traffickers move through victims through variety of hotels, motels and other properties.
“We have seen both lower-cost and expensive hotels utilized, though they do seem to prefer lower-cost hotels,” Williams said, telling the Daily News that his unit usually investigates more than 15 sex trafficking cases each year. Most of the time, Williams stated, trafficking is arranged and advertised online.
Freeman said he hopes the lawsuit sends a message to the hotel industry.
“What happened after these arrests? Nothing,” Freeman said. “What we are trying to say is that this can happen to you, Mr. Hotel, and if you all want to continue, Sharon and I will be at your doorstep.”