DA files action against Merced motel, calling it a ‘hub of prostitution’

Calling it “a hub of prostitution, assaults, robberies and narcotics,” Merced County prosecutors on Friday filed a formal action against the owners of a Merced motel.

The Merced County District Attorney’s Office filed the “nuisance abatement action” in an effort to force the owners of the Siesta Motel on West 16th Street in Merced to make numerous court-ordered improvements to the property to try to “discourage prostitution,” District Attorney Larry D. Morse II said in a news release.

The Merced Police Department has received more than 100 reports about crimes that have occurred on the Siesta Motel property over the past three years, Morse said.

Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall, the prosecutor who filed the nuisance abatement action, said the improvements sought include enhanced lighting, installing security cameras, hiring a security guard and changing motel-registration policies to specifically forbid “the renting of rooms by the hour,” the statement says in part.

Prosecutors said the complaint was filed against the listed owner, Bhavin Mehta of Mehta and Associates. Managers of the motel could not be reached for comment Friday. The motel office was locked Friday afternoon and nobody answered the telephone.

Wall said the Siesta Motel was at the center of three prostitution sting operations conducted by the Merced Police Department in the past two years, which resulted in 19 arrests.

“After one of these sting operations, the motel operator was hand-delivered an official notice from the police that changes must be made in order to address the problems associated with the motel,” Wall said in the statement.

The abatement action was filed under the California Red Light Abatement Act, Morse said, a state statute that gives local governments expanded power to confront businesses that attract or cater to prostitution.

“While some argue that prostitution is a so-called victimless crime, that is certainly not the view of law enforcement or the legitimate businesses that are adversely affected by the wave of violent crime, drug abuse and neighborhood degradation that occurs in and around these red light areas,” Morse said.

“We are going to continue to work closely with the Merced Police Department to rid our community of the blight of prostitution and hold property owners accountable for their complicity in encouraging or tolerating these crimes,” he said.