Philly motel sued in first reported human-trafficking lawsuit under Pa. statute
A lawsuit filed in Philadelphia on Friday accuses the Roosevelt Inn in Northeast Philadelphia of regularly providing rooms to human traffickers who exploit girls, forcing them to be prostitutes.
The complaint, filed on behalf of a Philadelphia girl, who was 14 years old when she was forced into the illegal sex trade in 2013 and exploited for two years, is the first such lawsuit of its kind under Pennsylvania's 2014 human trafficking statute, her attorneys say.
"This lawsuit is the first among many to come that will hold hotel and motel owners, among others, accountable when they knowingly allow victimization of the most vulnerable in our society," plaintiff's attorney, Tom Kline, of Philadelphia-based Kline & Specter PC, said in a statement.
The suit, filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, names as defendants the Roosevelt Inn, on the 7600 block of Roosevelt Boulevard in Rhawnhurst; Yagna Patel, its manager; and the motel's parent company, UFVS Management Company, of Purchase, N.Y.
The suit contends that the teenage girl, now 17, was enslaved and forced to perform sexual acts with men in 2013 and 2014 at the motel, and that the motel — for its own financial gain — regularly provided rooms to her traffickers.
It contends the defendants "knew or had constructive knowledge" that the girl was "being sexually exploited."
Patel, 72, reached by phone Friday, said he had not seen the lawsuit and was not aware of any minors allegedly being victimized in the motel. "We just rent the room and that's all we can do," he said.
He said he has a close relationship with the police and if there's unruliness in a room, the motel guests would be told to leave. "It's hard to control anybody," he said. "If we think a lot of people are having a party in the room, we kick them out."
Patel, who said he has managed the inn for 30 years, said he had "no knowledge" of the teenage girl in the lawsuit being victimized or of any other minors who may have been exploited as prostitutes in the motel's rooms.
According to the lawsuit, the girl's traffickers lured customers to the inn through internet advertisements, had men call a number to negotiate a cash price for sex, then had the men go to the motel's front desk, where an employee directed them to a room where the girl was staying at.
A hotel clerk named "Abdul" was fully aware that the girl "and other underage children were compelled to perform sex for money," the suit says.
The room where the girl was forced to be a prostitute "contained used condoms and condom wrappers and the room frequently smelled of marijuana," had "Do Not Disturb" signs on the door and frequently had men and other minors go in and out, the suit further contends.
The girl, identified in the lawsuit only as M.B., "was visibly treated in an aggressive manner by traffickers" and "exhibited fear and anxiety" in the hotel, the suit says, adding she "dressed in a sexually explicit manner" while walking the hallways.
Despite knowing about or seeing signs of human trafficking, the hotel, its manager and workers failed to report the crimes to authorities or otherwise stop the girl's victimization, the suit says. The girl, as a result, suffered physical harm, mental anguish, humiliation, and other harm, the suit contends.
The suit seeks more than $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
It is the first known civil suit to use the Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Law of 2014 that allows for compensation for victims against those who profit directly or indirectly from human trafficking, the plaintiff's attorneys, who include Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks, also of Kline & Specter, said in a statement.
A woman who answered the phone Friday at the UFVS Management Company said no one was immediately available to comment.