By Kera Wanielista / Skagit Valley Herald
MOUNT VERNON — A Mount Vernon motel owner has been arrested and his business closed after unsafe levels of methamphetamine contamination were found in several of the rooms.
Ashoo Ohri, franchise owner and manager of the Best Western College Way Inn at 300 W. College Way, has been charged in Skagit County Superior Court with one count each of maintaining a vehicle or premises for drug trafficking, second-degree promoting prostitution and three other drug-related charges after a months-long investigation by law enforcement determined the motel was being used for purposes related to usage and sale of drugs, as well as prostitution.
Mount Vernon Police Lt. Greg Booth said the motel, which court documents state was purchased by Ohri in 2017, came onto the department’s radar as suspicious earlier this year.
“All of a sudden, activity there had exponentially increased,” Booth said. “Calls for service had gone through the roof.”
Between January and April, police responded to 83 calls involving the motel, its guests and Ohri, Booth said.
During the same time frame in 2019 and 2018, the department responded to 19 calls and 16 calls, respectively, and 13 in 2017, he said.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Skagit County Superior Court, those calls ranged from increased traffic with cars coming and going to admitted drug use, fraudulent checks and residents being interviewed in relation to a Whatcom County homicide case.
In partnership with the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit, surveillance was begun on the motel and its residents, and officers were able to determine that a few of the motel’s long-term residents seemed to be at the center of much of the criminal activity, Booth said.
During the investigation, detectives were able to speak with people, including Ohri, who allegedly admitted to knowing there was drug use and sales and prostitution happening in certain rooms.
“Combined, we’ve put hundreds of hours into this,” Booth said. “We ended up developing enough information to put before a judge and get a search warrant to swab the walls.”
On June 4, an outside company was brought in to swab and test 10 rooms, Booth said.
On June 11, test results determined all 10 rooms were above the state’s level of acceptable contamination, he said. The state requires cleanup when methamphetamine contamination reaches 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters.
Based on those findings, the Skagit County Public Health Department on June 24 ordered the motel closed and residents to vacate until testing of all rooms and any required abatement is completed.
Contamination results of the rooms not listed in the original search warrant are still pending, said Skagit County Communications Coordinator Laura Gelwicks.
The business’ transient accommodations license expired in 2019, Gelwicks said. While Ohri had filed to have the license renewed, that process was put on hold, she said.
Ohri, who according to court documents owns hotels in two other states, was arrested on June 4, Booth said. He was later released on $20,000 bail.
Several other arrests — many for outstanding warrants — were made, Booth said.
“Our primary concern for the business is if the business can come back into code and compliance and operate as a legal (motel),” Booth said. “That’s all we want, and that’s what the driver was for us behind the actions we’ve taken thus far.”