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Feds indict owner, general manager of Desert Star Motel on Union Avenue

BPD 2

A multi-agency law enforcement task force arrested three individuals while executing a federal search warrant on an alleged human trafficking operation at the Desert Star Motel, 516 Union Avenue, on Jan. 22, according to the Bakersfield Police Department.

The owner and general manager of the Desert Star Motel on Union Avenue were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday after a search warrant executed last week found 15 prostitutes and three pimps at the property.

Jatinbhai Naresh Bhakta, 29, the Desert Star's owner since 2015, was charged with a single count of using interstate commerce in a racketeering enterprise. His general manager and handyman, 45-year-old Roy Gene Drees, was similarly charged with the same count. Both men lived at the motel, according to a news release Thursday from U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.

The indictment came six days after a multi-agency task force descended upon an alleged human trafficking operation at the Desert Star, described at the time by one criminal justice official as “a modern-day brothel.”

Drees and Bhakta were arrested that day, the Department of Justice said. Police previously said Curtis Moore, 43, of Bakersfield, was also arrested at the property that day on suspicion of gang participation and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the Bakersfield Police Department has made many prostitution-related arrests since 2015 at the hotel at 516 S. Union Ave.

In May 2019, it said, an investigation concluded two minor females had been engaged in prostitution at the motel. It alleged they were forced into it by Darnell Edwards, who on Nov. 7 that year was charged with sex trafficking of minors.

Bhakta and Scott face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The DOJ said the investigation continues and that it is being conducted by the Bakersfield offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, BPD and the Parole Division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.