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SALT LAKE CITY — Police say a Salt Lake City motel is a haven for drugs, prostitution and assault. Neighbors want it shut down, claiming it does nothing more than attract crime. For months, the city has said its hands are tied, but it’s finally taking action.
That business is the Gateway Inn. Take a stroll along the west side of North Temple and the old motel has occupied the same spot for decades. No glitz, no glamour, no luxury suites. For around $60 a night, you can rent a room.
The Salt Lake City Police Department’s records for 2017, obtained by the KSL Investigators, show police responded to the motel for allegations of rape, drugs, theft, a stabbing, shots fired, assault with a gun, assault with a knife, a murder… and the list goes on.
Nigel Swaby is with the area’s Chamber of Commerce and lives just a couple of blocks away from the Gateway Inn.
“Ultimately, we want the motel closed down,” said Swaby.
He claims the inn hurts nearby businesses and puts a lot of people on edge.
“I would love for the city to do more,” said Swaby. “It hasn’t been a priority and hopefully now it gets to be a priority.”
So what has the city already done?
Over the last couple of years, the health department has shut down room after room after room for health and safety violations.
To see the kind of problems they documented, the KSL Investigators rented two rooms at the Gateway Inn and hired a certified home inspector, Jonathan Brockbank, and a retired health inspector, Max Gyllenskog, to take a look.
Gyllenskog found numerous health and cleanliness problems, including more than a dozen cockroaches in one room.
Brockbank ran meth tests, also matching the health department, and found high levels of the illicit drug on the walls in both rooms.
Both rooms were later shut down by the health department.
Meanwhile, outside the rooms, Salt Lake police were called out to the Gateway Inn 1,087 times in 2017, investigated 336 cases and made 132 arrests. Police records show the motel also makes the top 10 list for police services every month.
If you do the math: one officer, spending an average of two hours per call, at an average wage of $48 an hour with benefits, equals a cost to taxpayers of $111,608 each year in calls to the Gateway Inn.
“We know this activity is taking place. We know the owners are profiting from this illicit activity, and that shouldn’t happen,” said Salt Lake Police detective Greg Wilking. “If we can simply eliminate that, and close down these businesses, and make it so they are accountable to the neighborhoods they’re residing in, that would make a huge difference.”
When asked if they did not have enough evidence to shut down a business like this, Wilking replied, “I would say we do have the evidence.”
So why is the Gateway Inn still open?
Police were hopeful that Salt Lake City ordinance 5.88.040 would solve the problem. It was adopted in April 2017, to “take immediate action on business activity,” with the potential of revoking a business license.
KSL Investigators dug into city records and found the ordinance has been used 366 times against Salt Lake businesses. But it has never been used against the Gateway Inn.
“I was hoping that it would be worth more than it has been,” said Wilking.
KSL asked for an interview with Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who couldn’t accommodate the request. But Mary Beth Thompson, the chief financial officer for Salt Lake City, said the city has not used the ordinance on hotels or motels because it’s difficult.
“Those crimes are not tied to the business owner and I can’t shut the business down without them being tied to the business owner,” said Thompson.
Essentially, if the owner has a clean criminal record, he or she can keep collecting money no matter how suspicious the client may seem.
“No, it probably doesn’t make sense,” said Thompson. “But that’s the way the ordinance is written. That’s the way the statutes are written.”
Jaswinder Singh has owned the Gateway Inn for the last three and a half years. He says he does his best to keep the criminals away.
“I’m very, very, very frustrated here,” said Singh. “If we know druggy people are selling drugs, we never rent the room. Never, ever.”
Whatever Singh says he’s doing to keep criminal activity off his property, it’s not working. He wants police, the community and the city to know it’s not his fault.
“I don’t say to people, ‘hey, come to my hotel and bring the roaches and sell the meth,’” said Singh. “Tell me the answer. Tell me what to do.”
Police documents show the city gave Singh a list of things to do months ago, to make the property more safe, including things like unobstructed views out the front windows and better access control to stop criminals from coming onto the property.
When KSL Investigators visited eight months later, they saw windows still blocked by gambling machines and unrestricted access to parking. The only recommendation from the city they could see had been implemented: the water to an outdoor faucet had been turned off to deter loitering.
The city also shows Singh was a no-show to meetings with the mayor’s staff, council members and a community council. The city says the meetings were an effort to solve the problems at the Gateway Inn.
Seven months after KSL’s investigation began, the city is now taking action.
Because the new city ordinance 5.88.040 can’t be used, they sent a letter to the Gateway Inn just days ago, using State Codes 78-B-6-1101 and 78-B-6-1107.
In short, it’s a nuisance law, which means if the property owner doesn’t clean up the illegal activities and health code violations in a reasonable time, it could lead to criminal charges. And that means the previously unusable city code 5.88.040 could finally be used.
“If there was a criminal charge they were convicted of, the business owner was convicted of, I could shut it down,” said Thompson.
While the city would rather have the Gateway Inn come into compliance, shutting the motel down may be the only answer.