A Poconos hotel and several people associated with it were convicted of sex trafficking offenses in a precedent-setting case last week, according to U. S. Attorney David Freed.
Faizal Bhimani, 43, and Nazim Hassam, 64, both of Bartonsville, Monroe County, were convicted along with Om Sri Sai, Inc. and the Pocono Plaza Inn hotel, which was formerly known as the Quality Inn in Stroudsburg, according to a statement from Freed’s office. Om Sri Sai, Inc. is a Pennsylvania corporation.
The group was convicted on Oct. 23 after a two-week jury trial. It was the first time that a hotel, a hotel owner or a hotel manager have been convicted of criminal sex trafficking offenses in Pennsylvania.
According to Freed, Omi Sri Sai, Inc. owned and operated a Howard Johnson hotel in Bartonsville where Bhimani was the general manager. Both were convicted of aiding and abetting sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and sex trafficking conspiracy offenses. Drug trafficking offenses and managing a “drug-related” premise were also a part of the case.
The jury also found the hotel guilty of managing a drug-related premises, and Hassam, who is part-owner and vice president of Om Sri Sai, guilty of drug trafficking conspiracy and two counts of managing a drug-related premises.
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The jury determined that all property owned by Om Sri Sai, Inc. “facilitated the company’s sex trafficking and drug trafficking crimes,” Freed’s office said. This makes the property subject to criminal forfeiture.
During the investigation, witnesses established that the Howard Johnson Hotel was a “safe haven” for crime between 2011 and 2019, Freed’s office said.
Bhimani, then the manager, made rooms available for sex traffickers and drug dealers, and took payments for the hotel that were direct proceeds from criminal activity, Freed said.
Bhimani also traded discounts and free rooms for sex, according to Freed’s office, which the traffickers would order their victims to provide to him.
Dozens of sex trafficking victims testified at the trial, explaining the coercion through blackmail, violence and drugs they experienced at the hands of the traffickers, Freed said.
Bhimani was found to be closely associated with several of the traffickers and knew about the trafficking going on.
Other employees at the hotel knew as well, and investigators found evidence that at least two other employees, including Hassam, participated in the sexual assault of these victims.
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The hotel allowed “known criminals” to check in under false names and Bhimani and Hassam both made efforts to obstruct police when they were trying to locate suspects, Freed said.
According to Freed’s office, these convictions come after a six-year joint investigation into sex trafficking, drug trafficking and violent crime in Monroe County by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
While much of the sex trafficking occurred at the Howard Johnson Hotel, the investigation found that the Pocono Plaza Inn was also “riddled with drug activity” including multiple overdoses, drug seizures, undercover drug purchases and arrests, Freed said.
Multiple kilograms of heroin and cocaine, as well as fentanyl, cocaine base, also known as “crack,” methamphetamine, marijuana, and MDMA were seized from the properties.
While the investigation began in 2014 as an effort to look into the “Black P Stone” gang, a group connected to the “Bloods” that was responsible for gun violence and drug trafficking, Freed’s office said the investigation uncovered widespread sex and drug trafficking.
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The sex traffickers and drug dealers also were warned by Bhimani when law enforcement were around, including during the manhunt for Eric Frein in 2014, according to Freed’s office.
In all, 40 people have been convicted of federal crimes related to these hotels and the trafficking investigation. Even more people have been charged and convicted in state courts, Freed said.
“This investigation is an outstanding example of how the Task Force model works as a force multiplier,” Freed said. “When federal agencies like the FBI join with local law enforcement agencies, officers who know their local jurisdictions better than anyone, we can accomplish far more than either can do on their own.”
“We hope this will serve as a warning to any other person or company in a position to facilitate or profit from forced prostitution: don’t,” he said. “Sex trafficking cases are among the most serious we prosecute, and we will bring to bear the full resources of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those who traffic women and girls, along with those who profit from it.”