Northland News

Columbus Inn and Suites

Long list of problems led officials to close motel

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A request for a temporary restraining order sought by the Columbus City Attorney's Office detailed many reasons why the city's police department and other officials closed the Columbus Inn and Suites on Zumstein Drive last week.

The list includes:

* Numerous undercover purchases by police officers of heroin and crack cocaine.

* Several undercover operations regarding prostitution in rooms at the motel, including one in which a victim of human trafficking was freed and four people were arrested for basically enslaving her.

* The serving of search warrants on rooms that resulted in the confiscation of digital scales, marijuana, syringes and cash.

* Inspection after inspection by the State Fire Marshal's Office that revealed dirty mattresses and bed linens, live cockroaches, unsafe wiring, mold and people living in the rooms on a long-term basis.

* A total of 497 police calls to the motel between Jan. 1, 2012, and March 19, 2013.

"This high amount of runs represents a drain on Columbus police resources," according to the order for closure, which was granted last week by visiting Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Teresa Liston.

"Based on the police runs and based on the evidence we had at hand, it is certainly one of the worst hotels in the area," Assistant City Attorney William Sperlazza said June 13, the day after police and work crews swarmed the property at 6121 Zumstein Drive and ordered those staying there to leave immediately.

While no similar actions are necessarily imminent, Sperlazza said the door isn't closed when it comes to other establishments in the vicinity of Interstate 71 and East Dublin-Granville Road.

"Our office has become aware of the situation with some of the hotels in that area," Sperlazza said.

If evidence is obtained of similar activities going on at other motels, he said the city attorney will pursue the owners "within the parameters of the law."

One of the owners of the Columbus Inn and Suites, on whom several of the search warrants were served, is Northland Area Business Association President Mohammad Ashraf.

Ashraf told The Columbus Dispatch the company he contracts with to run the motel is to blame for the criminal activity and other problems, but acknowledged that ultimately, the responsibility for it rests with him.

The 1.78-acre property is valued at $900,000, according to the Franklin County Auditor's Office.

Dozens of people staying at Columbus Inn and Suites, some of whom complained they had just paid fees for a month in advance, were forced to move.

It took detectives some time, according to Sperlazza, but finally enough information came to light to permit the closing of the 36-year-old motel.

"We had, in recent months, obtained evidence that drug dealers and drug users were using the motel, that drug transactions were taking place inside the motel, and that prostitutes and their pimps were using the motel," Sperlazza said.

"Once we obtained the appropriate evidence, we decided to move.

"There are some good people who live in that neighborhood and there are some good business owners," he added. "If we can take action to get rid of the criminal element from that neighborhood, we will."

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