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Merced judge orders improvements aimed at curtailing prostitution at 16th Street motel

A Merced County judge has ordered the owners and operators of the Siesta Motel on West 16th Street to take steps to end years of assaults, drug crimes and robberies.
A Merced County judge has ordered the owners and operators of the Siesta Motel on West 16th Street to take steps to end years of assaults, drug crimes and robberies. Sun-Star file photo.

A Merced County judge has issued a permanent injunction against the owners and operators of the Siesta Motel, requiring them to take steps to end years of assaults, drug crimes and robberies for an area prosecutors have described as “a hub of prostitution.”

Judge Brian McCabe on Thursday handed down the order requiring the owners of the West 16th Street motel to fulfill or continue a series of “improvements” aimed at reducing crime in the area, according to a statement from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Those steps include maintaining an on-site manager at all times, prohibiting room rentals of less than 12 hours, terminating rentals for illegal activity and maintaining a “do not rent list.” The owners also are required to maintain “ample and abundant high intensity light” and pay costs to the city police of $5,345 for “investigation and remediation of the nuisance conditions on the property.”

“Crimes like prostitution and drug dealing are quality-of-life offenses that can destroy neighborhoods and make it more difficult for neighboring businesses to succeed,” District Attorney Larry Morse II said in the statement.

Morse praised the ongoing efforts of the Merced Police Department to combat crime in the neighborhood and pledged to continue to “prosecute those who profit from prostitution and drug dealing.”

The Siesta Motel has been on the law enforcement radar for years. Authorities have said between 2011 and 2014, Merced police completed more than 100 crime and complaint reports at that one location.

Following a prostitution sting in 2013 that put nearly three dozen people behind bars, police Chief Norman Andrade said the 1000 block of West 16th Street was plagued with “rampant prostitution.”

The District Attorney’s Office in 2014 filed a “nuisance abatement action” under the California Red Light Abatement Act against Bhavin Mehta and Mehta and Associates and other owners of the motel. Mehta’s attorney, David Thelen, told the Sun-Star that his client was eventually dismissed as a defendant in the case before the stipulated judgment was reached this week. Thelen said the order applies to the other owners of the motel.

Merced police Capt. Matt Williams, a former officer with the department’s Disruptive Area Response Team, said the requirements set down by the court were “obviously a step in the right direction.”

“Those actions can only help the situation over there,” Williams told the Sun-Star. “It’s been an ongoing issue over there for many years.”

Williams said after the 2014 action was filed, police “initially saw some improvements in the area.”

“But it didn’t take long for it to go back downhill again,” Williams said.

The veteran police captain said he was hopeful the new order would help quell many of the issues that have troubled the neighborhood for many years. He said the owners have been working with police to make improvements.

“We’re definitely happy with those steps,” Williams said. “Hopefully we’ll can start to see things settle down in that area.”

Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482

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