Lawyer for South Portland motels threatens to sue city

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The attorney for two Main Street motels Tuesday threatened to sue if the city does not reconsider a decision to not renew their lodging licenses.

David Lourie, representing the owners of The Knights Inn at 634 Main St., owned by Kantilal Patel, and the Maine Motel at 606 Main St., owned by Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala, said he will seek an injunction before June 1, when the licenses expire.

The businesses can reapply for new licenses after June 1. 

City councilors cited repeated reports of criminal activity at the two motels, including drug activity and sex trafficking, as the basis for their decision last week. 

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted findings of fact in support of the decision, but could still vote to reconsider the action at its June 5 meeting. 

At their May 15 meeting, councilors voted 5-2 not to renew a lodging license for The Knights Inn and 7-0 not to renew the license of the Maine Motel, after Police Chief Ed Googins recommended placing conditions on the businesses, including installing video surveillance and more communication between motel staff and police. Councilors Adrian Dowling and Kate Lewis voted against denying the license for The Knights Inn because they preferred imposing a series of conditions.

Lourie on Tuesday said the city’s “cockamamie ordinance” governing the action is “out of a Seinfeld episode, but this is no joke.” He said the ordinance will not pass constitutional muster when interpreted by a court.

Lourie argued last week there was no evidence to warrant the restrictions. He said motel employees are not vicariously responsible for the guests’ conduct, and had been cooperative with police when asked to identify people and to provide access to rooms.

The attorney said his clients, who were present at the meeting, but did not address the council, wanted the panel to know they will abide by any conditions imposed.  “They want the neighborhood to know they have been listening,” Lourie said, referring to public comments at the May 15 meeting.

Rosemarie DeAngelis, a former mayor and city councilor, said she felt strongly that the council should move to reconsider the decision, calling it an issue of human decency. She noted Googins asked for conditions, not for non-renewal, and said the owners of the hotels are raising children and trying to support their families.

“We are a community that helps one another,” DeAngelis said. “I don’t understand this punitive model. Our job is to help, not slap people’s hands. You will make families homeless by this action and it is not necessary.”

Fifteen other establishments were recommended for renewal at last week’s meeting. Each business is reviewed annually by police, the Fire Department, and the health officer.

Googins, who has led the Police Department for 24 years, said this is the first time he has recommended such action be taken.

He said two prostitution investigations at the Knights Inn and an alleged overdose death at the Maine Motel violated an ordinance dictating that disorderly conduct and disturbance of the peace are violations that can result in revocation or non-renewal of a license. 

Police reports indicated the alleged incidents of sex trafficking and/or prostitution in June 2017 and January 2018 involved women who were either unable to speak English, or underage and listed as missing persons.

Conditions Googins sought to impose included installing video surveillance in public areas of the properties, having motel staff attend police training to identify criminal activity and more proactive reporting of potentially criminal activity.

The owners of the motels attended a training session May 15, the chief said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, foreground, listens as the city attorney, Mark Franco, discusses a recommendation that lodging licenses for two Main Street motels be considered with conditions attached at a May 15 City Council meeting. Councilors on Tuesday, May 22, adopted findings of fact to support not renewing the two licences.

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