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SeaTac man sentenced to a year in prison for operating 'crime-infested' Tukwila motel

The former owner of the Travelers Choice motel on Tukwila International Boulevard, Kulwinder Saroya, was sentenced to a year in prison for operating a drug-involved business. - Dean A. Radford/Tukwila Reporter
The former owner of the Travelers Choice motel on Tukwila International Boulevard, Kulwinder Saroya, was sentenced to a year in prison for operating a drug-involved business.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Tukwila Reporter

The former owner of the Travelers Choice motel will spend a year in federal prison for his role in operating what federal prosecutors describe as "crime-infested motels" on Tukwila International Boulevard.

Kulwinder Saroya, 42, of SeaTac was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour as a large contingent of friends and family watched.

The Travelers Choice was one of three motels seized by federal officials last August by a force of about 400 law-enforcement officers that were linked to prostitution, drugs deals and violent crime in the area.

The other two were the Great Bear Inn and the Boulevard Motel. The City of Tukwila wants to buy the three properties, tear down the buildings and redevelop this stretch of the boulevard just north of where Tukwila Village will rise.

The sentencing Tuesday "represents a new day in the City of Tukwila," city Administrator David Cline said at a press conference after the sentencing.

The seizure last summer came as the Tukwila Police Department was implementing several initiatives to reduce crime throughout the city, including Tukwila International Boulevard.

In the six months since the seizure, the amount of crime has decreased along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the boulevard that includes the three motels and in the surrounding neighborhoods, according to Tukwila Police Chief Mike Villa, who spoke at the press conference.

Calls for service are down 28 percent, violent crime is down 49 percent, residential burglaries down 50 percent and auto thefts down 32 percent.

"This investigation and seizure of these three motels have had without doubt, without question the most significant impact on the reduction of crime in that area since Tukwila annexed that area late in the late 1980s and early 1990s," he said.

Saroya arrived in the United States in 1990, fleeing what his attorney, Robert Leen, described as religious persecution. He wanted to pursue the American Dream.

"He ran a good motel," said Leen. "Unfortunately he allowed it to be used for an improper purpose."

"He didn't turn a blind eye to it. He profited from it," said Leen.

Saroya charged prostitutes and drug dealers a fee to do business at the Travelers Choice and the Great Bear Motor Inn, which he co-owned with his brother Jaspal Singh. Singh will be sentenced in April.

In addressing Coughenour, Saroya apologized to his friends and family.

"I learned my lesson for this mistake," he said. "I lost everything."

The two brothers forfeited the two motels, the family home in SeaTac, more than $265,000 seized from their home and bank accounts and a 2007 Mercedes Benz.

Saroya's attorney recommended a sentence of 6 1/2 months in prison and four months in home detention

Federal prosecutor Jill Otake argued for the one-year prison term and three years of supervised release, referring to Saroya's determination to live the American Dream.

"But there can be no doubt that the American Dream is not about exploiting the vulnerable in the community. It's not about making money off the backs of drugs addicts and prostitutes," she said.

A third defendant, Lakhvir Pawar, 41, the manager of the Boulevard Motel, will be sentenced in April on federal charges. He also pleaded guilty. He forfeited any financial interest in the motel and more than $90,000 he had accumulated from the criminal activity.

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