BAKERSFIELD – Over the course of two years, police across California investigated seemingly unrelated crimes and enforced disappearances: Bay Area youth allegedly molested and “tattooed” by their pimp. A Central Valley woman whose 3-month-old baby was abducted to force her into sex work. A 14-year-old girl who ran away from her home in Los Angeles County and told a family member that she made money doing “tricks”.
These women and girls came from different areas with different backgrounds and had different men who were eventually identified by the police as their exploiters. Authorities said they all had one thing in common: when they showed up, the Desert Star Motel in Bakersfield was in the same location, the owner and manager of which are now accused of essentially running a brothel in sight.
In court files filed Monday morning, the motel owner, Jatinbhai Naresh Bhakta, and a man who allegedly worked as a nursery and craftsman, Roy Gene Drees, were charged in federal court with “facilitating the transportation, establishment or pursuit of illegal activities to have, ”In this case, sex trafficking. The indictments allege that Bhakta’s phone contained evidence that he communicated hundreds of people responsible for running nearly 30,000 prostitution advertisements online.
The charges came as a result of an investigation opened in March 2019 under the direction of Bakersfield Police, which included undercover work, surveillance cameras for bars and dozens of interviews with women and girls who allegedly acted in the motel or consented to a prostitute. According to an affidavit from an FBI special agent, the hotel appeared to authorities “primarily targeting prostitutes and their potential customers,” and it was rare for anyone to use the motel for a legitimate overnight stay.
The authorities wrote in court records that the motel was well prepared as a brothel: it is a series of around 25 rooms with a single entrance and exit to its parking lot on South Union Avenue, which is protected by a large iron gate. Some, if not all, of the room windows are covered with beams that a suspected victim later noted were afraid of eliminating an escape route when attacked.
“Depending on the time of day, it is not uncommon for most, if not all, of the doors to the rooms to be wide open and suspicious prostitutes in lingerie to stand outside, waving to drivers and approaching their vehicles,” wrote FBI special agent David Hunter. “Potential customers park directly in front of the room of the prostitute they have selected. At this point, the prostitute either directs them into the room immediately or meets the customer outside to make a deal.”
The investigation came to a head last week when a team of federal and state authorities raided the hotel, rescued 16 people, arrested three people and retook three weapons. The police officers announced a press conference on January 22nd.
Stories of some of the missing teenagers, a woman whose baby was allegedly abducted, and other alleged human trafficking victims who turned up at the motel are set out in the indictments against Bhakta and Drees.
In May 2019, officers in Merced investigating the disappearance of two teenage girls there worked with Bakersfield police to track the girls’ cell phones to the motel. When the girls were arrested for a police interview, one of them identified their pimp as “Diamond” or “Big Daddy” and said he was also with “D.” That showed a tattoo on one of the girl’s faces: the letter D with a crown over it.
The girls later told authorities that they had traveled around California, including Los Angeles and the Bay Area, on Diamond. They stayed in the motel for about 10 days and traded every day. He kept the money, but gave them “food, clothes and weeds” according to Jäger’s statement. The girls told the police that he wanted them to make about $ 500 a day but didn’t seem “overly concerned” if they didn’t do the quote. They brought him $ 10,000 over a three day period, the authorities said.
Diamond was later arrested at a hotel in Antioch and identified as Darnell Edwards, according to court records. According to court records, he will face federal sex trafficking charges in a separate protocol.
In another January 2019 case, a woman arrested in a prostitution stab identified her pimp as a Fresno man who “kidnapped her 3 month old son to use as a lever against her, to force her to continue to prostitute against their will, “Hunter wrote. The man and another suspected prostitute were later arrested for kidnapping, according to court records. A month earlier, authorities searched a hotel room to rescue a woman who was reportedly abducted from another part of California.
Last December, a 14-year-old girl ran away from home in Los Angeles County and allegedly ended up at the motel, where she told her sister that a man named “Jamal” pimped her up there. Hunter wrote that the girl told her sister that she was making “good money” by “cheating” and that she was not cooperative when police tried to interview her later that month.
Also in December 2020, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted and raped during an argument with her pimp who disguised her for “sleeping” instead of “going on dates”. Part of this confrontation was reportedly captured by a surveillance camera secretly installed on a light pole near the hotel. Another human trafficking victim allegedly asked Bhakta’s help to get the girl to the hospital, but he replied that he did not want to get blood on the seats of his car, the complaint alleges.
In an interview with the police, a suspected victim, identified in court files only by her initials – which this newspaper does not publish – claimed that Bhakta charged a special fee for rooms used for prostitution. While asking for ID when she tried to book a room, he failed to express the subject when she refused and therefore never discovered she was a minor, the girl allegedly told police.
“(The girl) said that BHAKTA would establish the motel’s rules that if girls argue with each other, they would be kicked out for three months. If girls were beaten by customers or their pimps, he wouldn’t do anything as it was “part of the game,” “wrote Hunter. “(The girl) who claimed she had no pimp said that (another man) tried to storm into her room and demand that she be a pimp for him. When she complained to Bhakta, he told her to get a pimp or a gun. She expressed concern that she would not be able to escape the room if someone attacked her because the back windows were locked. “