Jefferson Parish fights to force hotels and motels out of the prostitution business

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - After years of discovering the often tragic aftermath behind the locked doors of hotel rooms, the sheriff's office now has a means to get out in front of dangerous prostitution rings in unincorporated Jefferson Parish.

"It's often people from out of town. They follow major tourism events, and they set up operation in an establishment we have in our community, and we have to live with the result," said Jefferson Parish Council Member Cynthia Lee-Sheng.

The result can be deadly. For example, in 2011 two women from out of state, both with histories of solicitation, were found strangled just two weeks apart. The first was in a Metairie hotel, and the second was in Kenner.

Former Kenner Police Chief Steve Carway described the scene on August 23, 2011: "an acquaintance of the victim called the hotel and said that he hadn't heard from her in sometime and asked that she be checked on. When they checked the room they found her unconscious."

Wednesday, Lee-Sheng said the Jefferson Parish Council voted to create an operations permit for hotels and motels, which will be able to be revoked or suspended if a business builds a reputation of prostitution problems.

Lee-Sheng said the plan was modeled after the Parish's deal with alcohol beverage outlets.

"When we have a problem bar, or bar that we know is serving to under age individuals, we'll call them before committee and we will look at whether their actions justify to suspending or revoking their license, and this will sort of work in the same way," said Lee-Sheng.

The Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association didn't return FOX 8's requests for comment, but their executive director told FOX 8's partners at Times-Picayune that the ordinance seems to require that owners pry into the activities of their guests, which violates their privacy.

However, Lee-Sheng said businesses that cooperate with law enforcement likely won't be penalized, and the tool will be most effective for egregious violations such as when hotel employees contribute to the illegal business.

"It's been instances where maybe they're on the lookout, they have employees who are part of it or cooperating with illegal activity that they want to crack down on," said Lee-Sheng. "Sometimes they have two sets of books they use."

Lee-Sheng said hotels and motels in unincorporated Jefferson Parish will have to get the new permits within the next few months, and previous prostitution issues will not be counted against them.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.