ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – What started as a drug investigation, turned into a whole lot more at an East Central motel. The feds say the owner and two employees were operating an elaborate ring selling drugs and women.
In a federal motion to detain, prosecutors describe the Best Choice Inn as a “one-stop shop” for sex and drug trafficking.
Investigators say the ring was run by “top boss” and inn owner Kamal Bhula. They say his henchmen, Willie Horton and Johnathan Craft, acted as “lookouts, security, front desk managers, and enforcers.”
Agents say the men were all pocketing thousands of dollars in cash. Court records show a total of $242,910 was deposited into a bank account registered to a company Bhula owns within a six month time period.
According to informants interviewed by federal agents, they say the men running the show would charge the prostitutes living at the motel a highly inflated rate to stay there—sometimes $200 to $300 a day. They say, if the women couldn’t pay, their belongings would be locked in their room. They allegedly couldn’t get back in until the could pay the rate, often forcing them to work Central.
Inside the dozens of rooms, which the fire marshal has now deemed “unsafe,” agents say they found 16 human trafficking survivors, plus massive amounts of heroin, meth, cocaine, and pills.
The operation at the inn was clear to visitors, one online review saying “DO NOT go here, unless of course you’re looking for a prostitute and/or a drug dealer.” APD was also well aware of problems at the property, getting called there 273 times since 2017.
According to an informant interviewed by federal agents, the crime was so bad Bhula even moved his family off of the property and into a home in the Heights. An informant also told the feds, the men allegedly tried to keep a wrap on the operation by ringing the rooms with a special tone when police arrived.
The nearly year-long investigation came to a head on June 18, when several federal and local agencies raided the motel. As of Wednesday afternoon, the sign outside the inn said it was “closed for renovations.”
All three men are facing sex trafficking, drug, and conspiracy charges. If Bhula is convicted, a judge could allow the federal government to confiscate the inn. It’s not clear what would happen to the property at that time.