Motel scam participants report to jail
One of two South Lake Tahoe motel owners ordered to surrender to authorities this week for a one-year jail sentence on a tax evasion conviction has found himself waiting for a vacancy.
U.S. District Court District Court Judge Edward Garcia gave Mark Patel, 38, two additional weeks to locate room in a federal facility known as a “half way house” through the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, as the judge had ordered in January.
Patel, along with former South Tahoe Public Utilities District Director Pembroke Gochnauer, 55, pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges following a three-year FBI sting investigating a motel scam involving the sale of Patel’s Secrets Motel.
Gochnauer, who worked for Aspen Realty at the time, turned himself in this week.
Chateau Suites owner Scott MacDonald, 38, pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in the scheme and was sentenced to one year in jail. He requested Nellis Federal Prison in Las Vegas. MacDonald surrendered to the prison bureau this week. He’s currently listed as “in transit” by the bureau.
But it’s business as usual for Patel this week as he awaits his fate at the Tradewinds Resort and Spa, which he runs.
He was ordered to surrender by Feb. 28 to serve one year in the community corrections unit as Gochnauer, but the prison bureau gave the wrong designation, his Sacramento Attorney Christopher Wing contends.
They were going to send him to the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc, Calif., until Wing requested a continuance to buy time. Inmates do not come and go at federal prisons like the Lompoc facility.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wing said. “If they don’t have room where we’ve requested, then I’m going to have suggestions for other alternatives.”
During the sentencing hearing, Wing had argued unsuccessfully to get Garcia to agree to home detention.
“When they tell me I’m clear, then I will go,” Patel said, answering telephones and requests at his motel front desk. “Do I have any choice?”
Patel made attempts to find others to run the motel but no one has proved to be the right candidate, he said. He’s hoping to try to run his business from whatever unit he ends up occupying.
There was a community corrections unit in Reno that seemed to be the right fit, but it was full.
“It’s kind of like a hotel,” Patel said.
Although he’s tried to put a positive spin on the outcome of his sentence, Patel admits the situation is hard on his family.
Like MacDonald, Patel insists he was forced into dealing with the FBI informant, who he said he “tried to distance himself” from. But he pleaded guilty because he felt he was in a no-win situation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI are bound to decline comment about the case.
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