Fort Lauderdale motel may be closed as a public nuisance due to drugs, prostitution

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By Macollvie Jean-François
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Fort Lauderdale · At night the brightly dressed women and men light up the dark, desolate strip along Sistrunk Boulevard between Northwest 10th and 22nd avenues. Their eyes stare relentlessly into passing vehicles, a signal to drivers in search of carnal pleasures.

After picking up a client, many prostitutes direct drivers through the darkened streets and across the railroad tracks to the Sunrise Guest House at 701 NW 21st Terrace.

"Everybody knows that house," said LaRhonda Ware, president of the Dorsey Riverbend Homeowners Association. "It looks like a madhouse back there. They pick up their johns and end up right there."

Neighborhood activists and city officials want the Nuisance Abatement Board to shut down the property at its meeting Thursday, because numerous arrests have failed to curb the activity.

They say the Sunrise motel has been a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes and their clients for more than five years. The property’s owners say they are working to resolve the problems. Still, men and women continue to gesture to passers-by, exchange items in cupped hands and approach visitors in hopes of making a quick buck that police say supports their drug habit. Residents and visitors, including the children who frequent Essie "Big Mama" Reed’s youth center around the corner, should not be exposed to these activities, Ware said.

The goings-on in the area also undermine development efforts aimed at improving the mostly poor, black neighborhood, some say.

"We have to clean up our neighborhood," said Mike Hamilton, owner of a towing company down the block from the Sunrise.

Hamilton, who opened his business on Northwest 21st Terrace 21 years ago, said closing down the Sunrise, in addition to arrests, are necessary steps in improving the area. The effort should be continuous, however, if illicit activities are to get the boot from the neighborhood.

"It’s like a hole in a dam," Hamilton said. "When you plug one hole, another one pops up."

Accredited Medical LLC of Nevada is listed as the owner of the property at 701 NW 21st Terrace, county property records show. The city notified its principal officers, Muhammed Gazanfer Khan and Jennifer Burkner, of Thursday’s meeting. The two, who plan to attend, said they are willing to work with police to eradicate illegal activities from the property. Burkner said they have upgraded the motel’s security, posted signs and stopped renting rooms hourly since assuming ownership in June 2005.

"We can’t single-handedly stop prostitution in the neighborhood," Burkner said. "Unless the police make further arrests or the community has a place to offer alternatives, it will drift [into] somewhere else."

City Commissioner Carlton Moore said the Nuisance Abatement Board should have ensured compliance or closed down the motel years ago.

"We created the Nuisance Abatement Board for properties like this," Moore said. "You don’t give them break after break after break. If you always delay the threat of shutdown, then why should anybody comply?"

Police have brought the property to the Nuisance Abatement Board six times since January 2000, when it was called the Lovely Guest House, records show. In those previous meetings, the board has ordered the owners to install better lighting, hire a security guard and cease renting rooms by the hour, said police Sgt. Anthony Vinson, who monitors nuisance properties’ compliance. Crimes declined under the board’s supervision — only a year by law — and rose again when supervision ceased, he said.

Police say women now rent the place nightly or weekly to provide illegal services.

"This is a continuing problem and we need to take strong action," Vinson said. "The activity has not changed."

The property has changed owners three times since 2000, records show.

Each time it changes owners, the city has to start the nuisance abatement process from scratch, though the same people continue to manage the motel, Vinson said.

Muhammed Gazanfer Khan’s brother, Saeed Khan, for example, has worked at the Guest House for years, police say. Saeed Khan is currently listed as the Sunrise’s manager, state records show. He was arrested in October 2005 and charged with permitting prohibited lewdness on the property.

The case was dismissed in an agreement Saeed Khan reached with prosecutors. He signed an admission of guilt and paid $1,000 in lieu of community service hours, city prosecutor Scott Walker said.

During a recent undercover police operation at the eight-room motel, stale tobacco and body odor smacked visitors who stepped into the foyer that serves as the administrative office. Music and television sitcoms blared from occupied rooms. A clerk on duty pulled open a file drawer filled with condoms.

That night, an undercover officer met a resident there who, he said in a police report, agreed to perform oral sex for $20.

Seven others also were arrested for prostitution near Sistrunk Boulevard and the motel.

Police have made more prostitution arrests since that sting, said police Capt. Franklin Adderley. Residents insist the city should do more.

"When they get out, they start right at it again," Hamilton said "They’re like little flies."

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