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Officials: ‘Operation Heartbreak Hotel’ shuts down Budget Inn

District Attorney Ken Baldwin, right, joined Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull, center, and Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley in announcing the results of “Operation Heartbreak Hotel” on Wednesday, Jan. 8. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A joint operation by the District Attorney’s office and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department yielded an arrest and the temporary closure of a local hotel

The joint operation, called “Heartbreak Hotel,” centers on the closure of the Budget Inn Motel, located at 185 Golf Course Road in Unicoi, according to local officials.

During a joint press conference held at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s training facility on Wednesday, Jan. 8, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley was joined by District Attorney Ken Baldwin and Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull to discuss the operation.

“Yesterday our office filed a temporary injunction to close the Budget Inn,” Baldwin said. “There will be a hearing later, but as of right now it is in the process of being closed and padlocked.”

Baldwin acknowledged that this operation has been months in the making.

“Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull and his office began working on this six months ago,” Baldwin said.

According to Hull, the injunction to file a claim of a nuisance at the motel came from numerous calls to the facility.

“A verified petition for an abatement of nuisance in Unicoi County Criminal Court against the Budget Inn located at 185 Golf Course Road has been filed,” Hull said. “There have been numerous calls to that address and several arrests have come from there over time, including one today.”

Hensley acknowledged that Wednesday’s arrest is not affiliated with the death discovered at the motel earlier in the morning. For a story about the death investigation, see page 2-A.

“The arrest was made on an outstanding warrant from Washington County,” Hensley said. “We have been out there three or four times a night routinely.”

According to Hensley, there have been 244 calls for service at Budget Inn from July 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2019. Those calls include 100 that are related to criminal activity, 58 medical calls, 16 calls that were theft reports, 14 fight calls and 12 domestic violence calls.

“Anyone who has been by that location understands why this was done,” Baldwin said. “The motel had 60 rooms but only 10 were fit to be used in any capacity.”

According to Hull, there were only a handful of residents at the motel when the closing began. “We only had six or seven residents staying there at the time of closure,” Hull said.

Hensley, who was thankful for the District Attorney’s office in getting this operation together, acknowledged that the UCSD is helping residents relocate.

“Most residents had family to take them in, but right now only two residents need help finding a place to go,” Hensley said. “We made sure they had a place to go.”

According to Hensley, the UCSD has made arrangements with the Salvation Army for the residents looking for homes.

Hensley went on to call the operation a success for Unicoi County.

“It’s a good day for the citizens of Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “It’s a win for those that live around that motel. … Years ago this was a nice place, that was back into the 1970s and 1980s. When I was a deputy, we used to house jurors there when they were sequestered. It used to be a really great place to stay.”

Following a hearing on Monday, Jan. 13, the Honorable Judge Stacy Street gave the Budget Inn owner, Mr. Rohit Majethia of Jonesborough, time to fix the property.

There will be another hearing on Monday, Feb. 24, to determine if the motel will be shut down for good. According to Hull, the temporary closure will remain in effect until a final decision is made on Feb. 24.

Baldwin acknowledged that surrounding counties can expect similar operations.

“This is just the beginning,” Baldwin said. “Other counties can expect more operations like this.”

According to Hensley, both the death investigation and the closure of the hotel are ongoing.