At the Daffodil Motel, some guests were checking in for more than a good night's sleep and checking out with more than their suitcases...
MILTON, Pierce County — At the Daffodil Motel, some guests were checking in for more than a good night’s sleep and checking out with more than their suitcases, according to recently unsealed federal documents.
The downscale motel, just south of the King County/Pierce County line on Pacific Highway, allegedly served as a temporary storage location for large quantities of marijuana and cocaine.
A parking lot next to the motel “always had trucks and trailers parked in it,” according to an informant who helped the government. Another confidential source told federal agents that the smugglers concealed loads of marijuana in various ways, including special compartments in the gas tanks or within false walls of tractor-trailers and inside refrigerator truck units.
Details of the alleged drug operation are spelled out in a 109-page affidavit in support of numerous search warrants, including one for the Daffodil, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
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The Daffodil’s owner, Maninder Singh Khatkar, who lived in a residence attached to the motel, and three others have been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana in Western Washington over a five-year period ending in September 2005. Khatkar is at large.
Earlier this month, Satnam Singh, the motel’s day manager, arrived for his shift and found between “10 and 15” police officers executing the warrant, he said. They shut down the motel for six hours, searching through office spaces, Singh said.
Police confiscated four cloned hard drives from computers in the residence, a small amount of suspected cocaine, a notebook containing phone numbers, a Cingular phone bill and miscellaneous documents, according to an inventory of items taken that was filed in court last week.
Singh said Thursday he had no knowledge of the motel’s alleged involvement in illegal activity.
Khatkar, 46, is described by the government as an East Indian and a naturalized U.S. citizen. Singh, who said he has worked at the Daffodil since November 2004, described his boss as a leader in the local Sikh community.
Khatkar’s lawyer, Seattle attorney Bob Leen, said his client learned of the charges earlier this month as he was returning from England, where he was visiting his dying brother.
Thursday, Leen said Khatkar was still out of the United States but that he would turn himself in and plans to plead not guilty.
One confidential informant who helped the government in its wide-ranging investigation told federal drug agents that while routinely staying at the Daffodil at no charge while working for a trucking company, the informant was paid $5,000 per drug-smuggling trip.
Another informant described how one of Khatkar’s alleged co-conspirators, Rajinder Singh Johal, would arrange for tractor-trailers to drop off trailers containing cardboard at a field south of the motel.
According to the affidavit sworn out by Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Kasey Kanekoa: When a shipment of marijuana arrived, the informant would unload it in the evening or early morning and hide it in the cardboard. Johal then instructed the informant “to divide the marijuana into multiple boxes, and customers would arrive at the Daffodil Motel and pick up boxes of marijuana. … ” The loads of marijuana that arrived at the Daffodil Motel were between 200 and 600 pounds.
The 27-room motel, which is still open and charges $50 per night or $20 per hour for rooms, served as the trans-shipment point to smuggle and store drugs from 2003 through at least the spring of 2004, according to the affidavit.
As part of its investigation, the government used at least three confidential sources, one of whom stated that the motel “served as a temporary storage location for loads of cocaine coming North from California. [The informant] said that Khatkar received cocaine shipments at the motel, and temporarily stored the drugs in and around the office or in a garage space attached to the west side of the motel,” according to the affidavit.
Over a two-day period in February 2004, the government tracked two phone calls to the Daffodil that were placed from a targeted telephone number for which a judge had authorized a wiretap, according to the affidavit.
The targeted telephone number belongs to Johal, also known as Roger Johal, who was arrested earlier this month. He has been ordered held without bail.
Johal, 43, has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney did not return a phone call.
The government has identified Johal as a citizen of India who also is a legal, permanent U.S. resident.
Johal, identified as Khatkar’s cousin, lived in a two-story brick house inside the Meridian Valley Country Club community in Kent.
Federal agents searched the house earlier this month, seizing $56,760 in U.S. currency, miscellaneous documents, an address book, an Indian passport, a loaded magazine for a 9 mm gun and computers, among other items.
Indicted with Khatkar and Johal on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana are:
• Lakhwinder Singh Johal, also known as Lucky, whom the government described as Rajinder’s brother. Lakhwinder, 37, of Newton, B.C., is at large.
• Dindyal Singh Jaswal, 34, of Auburn, whom the government described as born in India and a naturalized U.S. citizen. Jaswal was arrested earlier this month. He pleaded not guilty and was released under supervision.
In addition to the conspiracy charges, which carry a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term because of the amount of drugs involved, Rajinder Johal and Lakhwinder Johal are charged with bulk cash smuggling for allegedly concealing more than $10,000 in U.S. currency when crossing into Canada at Blaine, Whatcom County, in May.
Prosecutors have also filed a criminal forfeiture allegation, meaning that if the defendants are convicted, the government can move to seize any property that was used to facilitate the alleged crimes.
Among the items the government has identified are numerous luxury automobiles, the Kent home of Rajinder Johal, for which Johal and his wife paid $442,000 in 2001, and $90,508 cash the government says the Johal brothers tried to smuggle into Canada.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle also noted that the government could move to seize other assets not listed, including the Daffodil, if the defendants are convicted and a jury agrees there’s a link between criminal activity and those assets.
Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org