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Update: Body found at Unicoi hotel, Budget Inn shuttered

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jan 8, 2020 at 11:32 PM

UNICOI — A Johnson City man was found dead from an apparent drug overdose outside Budget Inn in Unicoi early Wednesday, minutes ahead of the execution a law enforcement operation to shut down the hotel.

Dubbed “Operation Heartbreak Hotel,” the court-ordered closing of the hotel came after a months-long investigation into allegations of criminal activity at the property, dating back to July 2017. A temporary injunction to allow officers to padlock the building was issued by Circuit Court Judge Stacy Street on Tuesday.

Speaking at a late morning press conference, Assistant District Attorney General Todd Hull said the evidence includes 244 calls for emergency assistance at the hotel at 185 Golf Course Drive over a 30-month period, including 100 reports of criminal activity and numerous related medical calls.

Hull’s petition for injunction states the property “has been a haven” for illegal activity, including the sale and delivery of narcotics, thefts, fights, stabbings, robberies, attempted murder and prostitution.

A hearing to determine if the injunction should be made permanent is set for Monday.

According to court documents, the business has been owned by Rohit Majethia of Chestnut Ridge Drive in Jonesborough for the past 15 years, and the property where it is located is owned by Jai Jalaram Krupa of Country Club Drive in Unicoi.

Speaking at the press conference, District Attorney Ken Baldwin said only about 10 of the hotel’s 60 rooms were suitable for habitation, and that only six of the rooms were occupied.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said most of the residents were low-income people from Johnson City who had been renting the rooms by the month. The property had not had an on-site manager since the December arrest of its night clerk, Hensley said.

The residents were required to vacate the rooms Wednesday morning.

Hensley said all but two of the residents were moving with the help of family members, and his department had made arrangements for the Johnson City Salvation Army to provide shelter for the two residents who were without family.

An autopsy was ordered for the man the sheriff said was found dead on the walkway at the front of the hotel. His identity has not been released.

Baldwin said the Budget Inn was the first of a number of public nuisance abatement closings his office would be seeking in the four counties of the First Judicial District.

Hensley called the hotel’s closing “a win” for the north end of Unicoi County because of the property’s suspected ties to numerous thefts and burglaries that have occurred in the area.

Reported earlier: 

Law enforcement officials say the body a victim of an apparent drug overdose was found at the Budget Inn in Unicoi on Wednesday morning when law enforcement arrived to close the motel for alleged drug activity.

District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office found the body as deputies exercised a court order to shutter the motel, located at 185 Golf Course Road, as a public nuisance. Baldwin said the hotel has had “a history of drug activity,” so his office asked the criminal court on Monday to “shut it down.”

Baldwin said every room in the hotel “will be padlocked” as a public health nuisance.

“This is the first of many such closings that we will be pursing,” Baldwin said.

A press conference is scheduled at 11 a.m.