A months-long undercover operation ended Monday with the arrests of the Orion Motel’s managers, who are accused of providing cover to pimps and drug dealers who rent rooms there.
By the time Seattle police converged on the Orion Motel, undercover officers and detectives had spent months posing as pimps, prostitutes and drug buyers to gather evidence of the criminal goings-on they say have long plagued the 28-room property.
Though the department’s Vice & High Risk Victims Unit routinely busts pimps and johns along the same stretch of Aurora Avenue North, this was the first time the unit had focused on a specific business. The high volume of suspected criminal activity led detectives to a pair of unusual targets: the Orion’s managers, a married couple who had lived on site for the past eight years.
The months-long police operation culminated Monday with the arrests of Kevin Lundquist Jr. and his wife for prostitution-related crimes.
Lundquist, 51, was charged Thursday with attempted promoting commercial sex abuse of a minor, a felony, as well as second-degree promoting prostitution. He remains jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail.
Lundquist’s 57-year-old wife was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of permitting prostitution, but she wasn’t booked into jail. She hasn’t been charged, but she acknowledged there was prostitution and drug activity at the motel, said Sgt. Tom Umporowicz, who supervises a squad of vice detectives and set the investigation into motion.
A second man — a suspected pimp and drug dealer — was also arrested Monday on warrants for two DUIs and driving with a suspended license.
The department’s Narcotics Unit was also involved in the operation, launching a separate but parallel investigation into suspected drug activity at the Orion, located at 12045 Aurora Ave. N. Charges are pending against a couple of alleged midlevel drug dealers accused of selling detectives street-level quantities of black tar heroin and crack cocaine from one of the motel’s shabby rooms, narcotics Lt. Phillip Hay said.
The Orion’s owners, two brothers who took over the property in November, later consented to a police search of room-registration forms, enabling detectives to match names of guests to street names and identify several more suspects — including a number of known gang members — wanted for various felonies, Umporowicz said.
“They’ve been very cooperative,” Umporowicz said of brothers Jason and John Kim, who fired Lundquist and his wife after being called to the Orion following Monday’s bust.
It’s Umporowicz’s hope that by removing the motel’s managers — who he alleges not only permitted criminal activity but were also “facilitating it and providing cover” for the drug dealers, drug users and pimps who congregate there — police will see a larger impact in neighborhoods within a five-mile radius of the Orion, where burglaries and car prowls have been a constant problem.
“If you’re enforcing prostitution, you’re also enforcing drugs and gangs and stolen property. They’re all interconnected,” Umporowicz said.
In October, Umporowicz and his squad got a tip that underage girls were being pimped out of the Orion — an allegation they weren’t able to prove, police say, because the pimp had already moved on. But to better understand what was happening in the Orion’s parking lot, Seattle detectives went undercover as pimps for the first time in the vice unit’s history.
The Orion is one of four motels clustered along a stretch of Aurora Avenue just south of North 125th Street.
Early on in the investigation, Umporowicz and a senior detective wanted to determine if the same kind of criminal activity reported at the Orion was occurring at the three other motels.
But when they approached management at the motels and tried to rent rooms by the hour (which is illegal in Seattle) or blatantly intimated they were there to engage in sex for money, they were shown the door — and were even kicked out of one motel’s parking lot, Umporowicz said.
Not so at the Orion. They set out to figure out why.
The two-story, L-shaped motel has long drawn attention from officers assigned to SPD’s North Precinct.
In early January, SPD robbery detectives found Craig Jackson, 58, in a room at the Orion, court records show. He is one of two suspects charged with robbing a Georgetown gas station and viciously stabbing a 65-year-old clerk, permanently blinding the man.
Also in January, there was a stabbing and a shooting there — both nonfatal — and patrol officers responded to a 911 call about a pimp who was waving a gun around in the parking lot and trying to force a woman back into prostituting for him, Umporowicz said.
At one point during the investigation, an undercover officer posing as a prostitute was confronted by an aggressive customer, who thrust his hand down her shirt, he said. The officer wasn’t hurt and managed to talk her way out of the situation, but the incident prompted Umporowicz and Lt. Jim Fitzgerald to strengthen safety protocols for the officers and detectives working the case.
Through it all, “their covers were never burned,” Umporowicz said.
Two detectives posed as pimps and were so good at establishing credibility that “they had multiple criminals giving them intel” about police activity in the area, he said.
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Other detectives posed as customers or “johns,” and four female officers — including two who looked young enough to pass for 15- and 16-year-olds — posed as prostitutes working for the undercover “pimps.”
The vice operation quickly focused on Lundquist, the motel manager who routinely conducted his own surveillance on an adult-sized tricycle.
The detectives noticed that when the motel’s owners visited the property, criminal activity quieted down. But the moment the Kim brothers left, “it was like the switch was flipped,” and the drug dealing and sex buying ramped back up, the operation’s lead detective said.
(The Seattle Times agreed not to identify the undercover detectives involved in the operation or publish information about police tactics used during Monday’s surprise sweep.)
For their part, the Orion’s owners say they’re committed to kicking out the criminal element and have already sunk $100,000 into renovations in hopes of attracting a better clientele. The Kim brothers also gave police permission to copy video surveillance footage that was saved on the motel’s computer hard drive.
“I was clueless. I did not know he was doing these things. I call him the ‘invisible man’ because he’s never here when I call,” Jason Kim said of Lundquist. “I’m a businessman. I don’t need this.”
Some of the most damaging evidence was established through Lundquist’s interactions with the undercover detectives who posed as pimps, according to Umporowicz and charging documents. The detectives paid Lundquist $20 per night for each “girl” they pretended to be prostituting — kickbacks to keep the women “off the books” and out of the motel registry, according to Umporowicz and charging papers.
Umporowicz and his detectives wanted to see how far Lundquist would go to protect the pimps’ business, and got a Superior Court judge to sign off on two wire taps so they could record Lundquist’s responses in two different scenarios.
After introducing Lundquist to two of his underage “girls,” one of the undercover pimps told the girls to go to Lundquist if problems arose when he was away from the motel. One of them did just that, asking Lundquist to call her pimp when a customer — also an undercover detective — refused to pay her, the lead detective said.
The phone call was recorded and the “pimp” — who returned to the motel and made a public show of getting the customer to leave — gave Lundquist $100 for his help, according to the detective and charging papers.
In the second scenario, a couple of bicycle officers went by the Orion and showed Lundquist a photo of someone they said was a 15-year-old runaway — though it was really a photo of one of the undercover officers posing as an underage prostitute. Lundquist denied having seen her, and the next day, warned her “pimp” that the police had been to the property looking for runaways.
“We gave him the opportunity not to commit the crime,” the lead detective said of Lundquist. “We’ve got the guy taking money and assisting the pimp and becoming an assistant pimp.”
Charging papers say Lundquist also deleted incriminating footage from the motel’s video surveillance system so guests wouldn’t get in trouble.
“It’s like putting sugar water on a piece of wood and watching the ants come and go,” the lead detective said of the high volume of sex buyers and drug users the detectives saw at the Orion. “There’s a mess here, and we’re cleaning it up.”