Published October 29. 2020 08:10AM
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced a conviction for the owner and general manager of the Pocono Plaza Inn hotel in Stroudsburg.
Faizal Bhimani, 43, and Nazim Hassam, 64, both of Bartonsville were convicted on Oct. 23, of sex trafficking and drug trafficking charges after a two-week jury trial.
According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, Om Sri Sai Inc., a company that
owned and operated a Howard Johnson hotel located in Bartonsville, and Bhimani, the general manager of that hotel, were both convicted of aiding and abetting sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, and sex trafficking conspiracy, as well as drug trafficking conspiracy and managing a drug-related premises.
The jury found the Pocono Plaza Inn guilty of managing a drug-related premises, and Hassam, part-owner and vice president of Om Sri Sai and managing shareholder of both hotels, guilty of drug trafficking conspiracy and two counts of managing a drug-related premises.
The jury found that all property owned by Om Sri Sai Inc. was property that facilitated the company’s sex trafficking and drug trafficking crimes, and is therefore subject to forfeiture.
These convictions mark the culmination of a six-year, joint investigation into sex trafficking, drug trafficking, and violent crime in Monroe County by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
This case began in 2014 with an FBI investigation into the “Black P Stone” gang, a set of the “Bloods” that was responsible for gun violence and drug trafficking in Monroe County at the time. Local agencies, including the Stroud Area Regional Police Department and the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, joined the effort early on, and eventually expanded beyond the “P Stones” to uncover more widespread sex and drug trafficking in Monroe County.
The evidence established that the Howard Johnson Hotel in Bartonsville was a safe haven for criminal activity between 2011 and 2019. Bhimani, as manager, made rooms available for sex traffickers and drug dealers, and at times took payment for the hotel directly from the proceeds of criminal activity.
Bhimani also traded discounted and free rooms for sex, which traffickers would direct their victims to provide. Dozens of women were compelled by multiple traffickers, sometimes called pimps, to conduct prostitution in the hotel either by physical force, threats, false promises, or coercion, including through blackmail and drug addiction. Women who were addicted to drugs were provided with just enough drugs to keep them working, and pimps used their addictions and the threat of withdrawal to control them.
Multiple survivors also testified that they were required to follow the traffickers’ rules, were forced to rely entirely on the traffickers for food, clothing, even hygiene products, and they were often punished for violations with violence, including sexual assault.
The evidence showed that Bhimani was closely associated with several of these traffickers, and knew of the methods used to compel the victims to have sex for money. Bhimani also warned sex traffickers and drug dealers when law enforcement were present at the hotel, including during the manhunt for Eric Frein in 2014.
Several admitted sex traffickers and drug dealers testified to successfully evading detection by police thanks to warnings from Bhimani. The hotel allowed known criminals to check in under assumed names or even street names, and Bhimani and Hassam both took steps to obstruct police efforts to locate suspects.
Evidence at trial also showed that the Pocono Plaza Inn, known as Quality Inn before
losing that franchise, was also riddled with drug activity. In all, 40 defendants have been convicted federally as a result of this investigation, many of whom trafficked women and drugs in the Bartonsville Howard Johnson and the Pocono Plaza Inn. Other defendants have been charged and convicted in state courts.