When you hear the word “heroin”, you may think of the Northwest… Portland or Seattle, the “grunge” scene of the early 1990s. If you heard there was a heroin market in Wisconsin, you may think Milwaukee. But you may not immediately think Madison, considered one of the safest, cleanest cities in America. But, sure enough, there is a dark underworld even in Madison.
The Expo Inn Motel, located at 910 Ann Street (just off the Beltway at Fish Hatchery Road), is one such entrance into this underworld. For the past few years, police have tried to curb the criminal activity there, but the rumors spread and the motel acts as a magnet for heroin, crack cocaine, prostitution and other questionable acts. What can be done to stop this? Can anything be done?
February 19, 2009: The City Takes a Stand
Police demanded that the owner of the Expo Inn stop alleged drug dealing and criminal activity or face legal action that could force the motel to be vacated, closed, razed or sold. The owner, Bob Patel, said he has willingly dealt with problem guests and tenants, installed surveillance cameras, hired security and made many cosmetic improvements to the property. “We want help from the police,” said Patel, who bought the long-troubled, 100-room motel in March 2007. “We’re doing something good here.”
Some guests were pleased with the progress. “It’s no-nonsense,” said Ken Klawitter, who has stayed at the motel for more than a decade. “They don’t put up with anything.” Claudette Carter, who has been at the motel for three weeks, said, “I’m glad to know the office is open all night.”
The motel, which caters to people with lower incomes, has generated 423 police calls — averaging more than one per day — since January 2008, South District Captain Joe Balles said. “We’ve had continuing problems at that place,” Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “A lot of these problems have to do with the way the property is managed.”
In recent years, the city has taken a series of actions in the surrounding Burr Oaks neighborhood, moving against troubled apartments around South Park Street and Badger Road and older motels on the Beltline like the Expo Inn. The motels often attract people with special needs, those with drug or alcohol addictions and parolees, said Alderman Tim Bruer, 14th District, who represents the area.
Police Captain James Wheeler, who led the South District from 2004 through 2008, said the Expo Inn has long been a problem and that the owner didn’t fully cooperate with police, moving problem tenants from one room to another. “It was kind of a shell game, almost,” Wheeler said, adding that the Expo Inn was near the top of his list of trouble spots when he left for another post in the department. “It’s a business that needs to change some of its practices. We just can’t keep coming back to that establishment time and time again.”
On February 19, Balles sent an official notice of drug activity at the Expo Inn to Patel, demanding that a drug nuisance in one of the motel units be fixed or the property would face further legal action. Patel, Balles said, has cooperated with a new Community Policing Team officer and taken steps to remove problem tenants. “The owner has been pretty good working with me,” Officer Jeffrey Pharo wrote to Balles.
Patel said he and his family are committed to improving the motel, turning down state Department of Corrections tenants and placing no trespassing signs on the property. But people of modest means have a right to lodging and should not be turned away because of their income or appearance, he said.
As we now know, despite Patel’s efforts, the situation was not going to get better any time soon.
January 7, 2010: Mistaken Robbery
A 50-year-old former heroin dealer said he was robbed by two men at knifepoint at the Expo Inn motel, Madison police said. The man said two robbers came into his room at the motel at about 9:15 p.m. and asked, “Where’s the stuff at? Where’s the money at?” The man said he has given up the drug trade, although others he was involved with might not know that yet. The robbers took some money from his wallet and from a dresser and fled, the man said. He saw a red or maroon car, possibly a Ford, leaving the lot just after the robbery.
The robbers were described as black men, police said. One is believed to be between 25 and 30 years old, about 5-foot-8 and 165 to 175 pounds. He wore a black winter coat with fur around the hood, and jeans. The other man was believed to be in his early 30s, about 5-foot-10 and 200 to 210 pounds with a dark complexion. He wore a black stocking hat, a black leather jacket and blue jeans.
April 25, 2010: Man Killed by Horse
On April 25, Katie M. Allen, 29, of DeForest, bought some heroin, then picked up Cordell Stamps, also 29, and drove him to an apartment where he bought crack cocaine. They went to the Expo where they smoked the crack and injected themselves with heroin.
Later on, Allen appeared panicked at the motel’s front desk, saying she needed to get into one of the rooms to check on Stamps. A night security guard, finding Stamps unconscious on a bed, attempted CPR until rescue personnel arrived.
Stamps died from an overdose after he and Allen shared the heroin and crack. An autopsy found that Stamps had cocaine and oxycodone in his body, among other substances. The autopsy also found morphine, which the body’s metabolism creates from codeine or heroin. A person who provides drugs that cause an overdose death can be charged with reckless homicide under state law, but the combination of drugs in Stamps’ body may have made it difficult to prove heroin as the drug that caused his death.
Allen initially denied knowing of any drug use, but later pointed out a cigarette butt receptacle where she had thrown away needles and a crack pipe.
August 10, 2010: The Baby and the Corpse
August 10, 2010, James Ray Armour, 47, woke up at 6:30am. He left his girlfriend Nicole Annette Gaziano, 36, who he thought might be dead because she was not moving, with their 18-month old son because he was afraid of being late for work at Woodmans grocery store and getting fired. Gaziano had taken pain pills the night before for her bad back and reportedly snored in her sleep. They lived together in the Expo Inn near the Beltline Highway and Fish Hatchery Road. He was one point away from being fired on Woodman’s demerit system. “I didn’t want to go to work, I had no choice,” he said. “The points would have killed me.”
After being at work for four hours, he called the motel’s front desk and asked the clerk to check in on his girlfriend. She was dead and the clerk told the police so. Police were called to the Expo at 11:25 a.m. The police called Armour and told him of his girlfriend’s death, to which Armour responded, “So she’s really dead?” And further stated, “I bet she was dead before I left this morning.” The police found the child unattended, dirty and with crunchy hair. He wore only a diaper. They tried to feed him water and milk, but the child was more interested in a nearby soda.
“She was a good mom. She stayed to herself; she never had company,” said Tasha Gaulin, who is staying at the motel. “I’ve been here about four or five months, and they’ve been here since I’ve been here,” said Sandy Banks, a motel resident. Madison police said the child was not harmed and is in the care of Dane County Human Services.
November 8, 2010: The Dirty Dozen
A sweeping raid at the Expo Inn ferreting out drug and prostitution was conducted on the afternoon of Monday, November 8, 2010, according to south district captain Joe Balles. Twelve people were arrested on a variety of charges. The motel has had a long history of drug and prostitution activity, and had been the scene of four death investigations in 2010, mostly for drug overdoses. The problems could result in sanctions against the motel, said police spokesman Howard Payne.
Over the course of eight plus hours, the twelve individuals were arrested or cited, two search warrants were obtained for two motel rooms (216 and 217), crack cocaine and heroin were seized and cash and drug paraphernalia (scales, needles) were also seized in the raid. Those arrested include:
(1) Lee Gaddis, 36, tentatively charged with manufacture/delivery of cocaine base (crack), possession with intent to deliver and bail jumping; (2) Michael Cooper, 35, delivery of heroin, maintaining a drug dwelling, possession of heroin, possession of drug paraphernalia; (3) Daymon Frazier, 20, manufacture/delivery of cocaine base (three counts); (4) Cynthia Scott, 34, manufacture/delivery of cocaine base (three counts); (5) Paul Hunt, 37, delivery of counterfeit substance, probation hold; (6) Jordan Seiler, 20, Portage, possession of drug paraphernalia, probation hold; Seiler was taken to Meriter Hospital upon his arrest after swallowing a large amount of heroin; (7) Jamie Lippens, 36, Madison, unlawful trespass to property; (8) Hoseia Chestnut, 46, no permanent address, parole violation; (9) Ibukan Washington, 30, no permanent address, probation warrant from Minnesota; (10) Walter Louis, 30, manufacture and delivery of cocaine base, parole violation, bail jumping; (11) Jerry Wright, 49, improper use of vehicle registration; and (12) Brittany Zander, 20, manufacture/delivery of heroin (two counts).
Those with no address listed all had the Expo Inn reported as their address. “Many of the residents are ‘long term’ residents,” Captain Balles said, “with the primary business at the motel providing longer-term housing.” The investigation, conducted over several weeks, showed many of the residents at the motel are drug dependent, specifically on heroin. “The property is well known by other heroin addicts and heroin suppliers as a place where you not only conduct drug sales but as a place to consume or ingest the drugs as well,” Balles said.
Captain Balles said the owner of the motel has been interviewed as part of the investigation. “A summary of all police activity (at the motel) for the past two years is being prepared and will be given to the city attorney’s office next week, for consideration of prosecution under the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance,” Balles said.
November 17, 2010: Killer Horse Aftermath
On Wednesday, November 17, 2010 a heroin delivery charge was filed against Katie Allen as a result of her friend’s death at the Expo in April.
December 7, 2010: Abandoned Baby Aftermath
On December 7, 2010, James Armour was charged with child neglect for leaving his infant son alone with the corpse of his girlfriend Nicole Gaziano. His previous brushes with the law had all been traffic-related. Gaziano had a history of financial troubles and had recently been convicted of multiple counts of retail theft.
Sunday, March 20, 2011: Fire
A fire in a room at the Expo Inn in Madison caused $25,000 in damages, but no one was in the room at the time and no one was injured, according to a Madison Fire Department press release.
At 12:14 a.m. a hotel staff member noticed the smoke and pulled the fire alarm, but not all guests evacuated, so firefighters had to tell them to leave the building. When the firefighters arrived, they saw flames coming from the room at the hotel. Firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly and the fire was limited to one room. Hotel staff and the American Red Cross are helping the guests, one adult and two children ages 3 and 7, with housing arrangements. How these guests are connected to the empty room is unclear.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Monday, April 25, 2011: Public Nuisance?
The city of Madison asked for a court injunction to shutter the Expo Inn, which it alleges to be a center of rampant crime, much of it drug related, including three deaths within five months.
But Expo Inn owner Bob Patel said he doesn’t think the motel deserves to be shut down and believes that it’s being punished for calling police when problems arise. “That’s what it feels like, but at least we’re calling to do something about it,” Patel said. “We do our best.”
In a drug abatement lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court, the city wrote that police calls to the 100-room motel totaled 1,080 from March 24, 2007, to December 31, 2010. It goes on to detail incidents from 2010 involving drug sales and use, robberies, prostitution, domestic abuse, property crimes, two drug overdose deaths and a suicide, all between April and August.
The property has also been issued 240 building code violations between 2008 and 2010, the lawsuit states, and Patel received notices of drug activity from Madison police in February 2009 and November 2010.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction permanently barring Patel and Gold Rose Hospitality LLC from continuing to run the motel and asks that it be closed and boarded up. It also asks that the building and land be sold and that a receiver be appointed until it is.
The action is similar to one the city took against another Beltline motel, the Highlander, which closed in September after the city sought its closure to curb crime and drug activity there.
On Wednesday, April 27, Dane County Judge Peter Anderson ordered Bob Patel to stop allowing drug use and sales to take place on the premises until a court hearing scheduled for next month. The temporary restraining order Patel from “maintaining, permitting, or continuing a public nuisance, to wit, a drug house” as defined in state statutes. The order does not say specifically how Patel must accomplish that.
Monday, May 16, 2011: Forced to Evacuate
The city of Madison agreed to hold off on its request to have the Expo Inn declared a public nuisance, but extended-time residents will still have to leave the motel within two months, under an order signed by Dane County Judge John Markson.
The agreement between the city and owner Bob Patel will delay public nuisance proceedings against the motel for three months. “I think it’s a fair stipulation,” said lawyer Michael Christopher, who represents Bob Patel. “One indication of that is that no one is totally satisfied by it.”
Under the agreement, owner Bob Patel will notify long-term residents that they have two months to move out. He also agreed not to rent rooms to anyone for longer than a week, with the exception of construction workers or business people who are assigned to work on a current project in Dane County.
The names of long-term residents who are ordered to leave the motel will be given to Madison police so that they can coordinate a series of meetings with organizations such as the United Way, the Salvation Army, Porchlight and other agencies that can help the residents find permanent housing. Patel also agreed that each Monday, the motel would send police an updated list of everyone who stayed at the Expo Inn the previous week.
Those who stay at the motel must also be given parking stickers, and vehicles without stickers will not be allowed on the Expo Inn property. Patel agreed to continue to market the motel property for sale or other redevelopment.
After three months, the agreement states, the city and the motel would have three options: Continue to work to resolve the problems at the motel; dismiss the case altogether; or vacate the motel by November 30 and seal it up, unless it is sold before that date.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011: Crime Continues Despite Cleanup
A late night of crime and capture started at 12:07 a.m. Tuesday, with the report of a mugging of a 32-year-old Madison man who was walking near the Expo Inn. “One suspect was armed with a handgun, demanding the victim’s money,” said police spokesman Joel DeSpain. “The victim pushed the gun away and ran.” The victim went inside the Expo Inn to report the crime to police, when the next crime was being committed.
“A 56-year-old Florida woman and her family were in a motel room lying in bed when a brick flew through the window,” DeSpain said. “The next thing she knew, the burglars grabbed a cell phone and wallet that were sitting on the window sill.” Officers responding to the mugging saw three men running from the scene.
“One was taken into custody at gunpoint while the other two fled,” DeSpain said. “A second suspect was chased down and arrested and the third was located hiding behind some brush along a fence line, thanks to the tracking nose of a town of Madison police dog.”
The mugging victim identified two of the three suspects, and Expo Inn supplied surveillance video that helped identify all three suspects. Cortez Talley, age 18, 6207 Hammersley Road, Madison and a 15-year-old Sun Prairie male were tentatively charged with armed robbery, burglary and criminal damage to property, and Kendal Harris, 17, Madison, was tentatively charged with burglary criminal damage to property and resisting/obstructing. Talley had been previously arrested December 2010 for retail theft at the Woodman’s grocery store in Madison and was on probation at the time of the Expo Inn incident. Harris, in March 2011, was arrested for obstructing an officer while using the alias Jeffery J. Freeman.