Attention, motel owners: Allow people to sell sex or drugs at your motel and you might find the state selling your furniture. But don't worry too much — the property could still be yours.
In a public auction last week, the state sold mattresses, TVs, and furnishings from the Garden Inn & Suites, the Royal Inn & Suites, the Bellevue Inn, and the Lamplighter Motor Inn. Once at auction, however, most of the items were purchased by the original owners.
All four motels were closed after a months-long investigation by the District Attorney's Office found the motels tolerating prostitution and drug activity on their premises. The furnishings were auctioned after being forfeited to the state as a result of "public nuisance" closures. But the day after the auction, a judge ruled that the hotels would be allowed to reopen.
"The [property owners] were the built-in buyers. It was only natural for them to buy their own stuff back so they could get back into business," said Ken Roebuck of Asset Recovery Auctions, who led auctions at each motel on Tuesday, May 6th.
Most items were sold by the room, and though people not affiliated with the motels purchased some miscellaneous items, such as tables and linens, the highest bidders tended to be the property owners themselves.
The furnishings from Garden Inn & Suites netted $18,500. The Royal Inn & Suites' items brought in $20,500. Items from the Bellevue Inn and the Lamplighter Motor Inn earned $2,250 and $1,850, respectively.
Most of the money will go to cover the cost of the investigation at each motel. Any additional money will be given back to the property owners because the closures were civil, not criminal, proceedings.
"With a nuisance matter, we're not allowed to seize the property," said assistant district attorney John Campbell. "We're only allowed to sell the items that were used to further the nuisance."
Though it may seem strange that the property owners would ultimately receive the auction proceeds, Campbell said it's unlikely that there will be money left after investigation costs are covered.
The District Attorney's Office must use the funds to pay back the Memphis Police Department for use of undercover officers and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office for inmate labor used to set up the materials for the auctions. The D.A.'s office has yet to determine how much money each agency will receive.
"For a couple of these motels, the money raised is nowhere near going to cover the cost of the investigation," Campbell said. "I know the cost of the Bellevue's investigation will cost way over the $2,250 [brought in at auction], and the same thing goes for the Lamplighter. The other two will probably get some money back."
Campbell said the nuisance laws were set up so that taxpayers wouldn't bear the burden of paying for the investigations into such matters. "If your property causes a problem and the police have to do an investigation, it makes sense from a taxpayer standpoint that the property owner should have to cover those kinds of costs. It's a financial burden that will hopefully keep people from doing it again."