Las Vegas Sun

December 11, 2023

Motel closed amid claims of prostitution

The Del Mar motel, where prostitutes allegedly openly plied their trade under the eye of motel management, was closed after the Las Vegas City Council stripped the motel of its license Wednesday.

The council voted 6-0 to revoke the license, which required the motel to close that day, William Henry, the city's senior litigation attorney, said.

City and police representatives argued that the Del Mar, which rented rooms by the hour and put boxes of three condoms in every room, was a haven for prostitution that motel management encouraged in return for a boost in profit. They also said that past efforts by police to work with motel management to stem the problem were rebuffed.

Attorneys for Del Mar owner Edgar Wrenn argued he was an absentee owner who was surprised by evidence of rampant prostitution at his motel and was willing to work with police.

Wrenn's son-in-law Ed Kammer, who is also a math teacher at Valley High School, has been running the motel for about three years. During that time the motel's business tripled and profit rose to $500,000 a year, Wrenn said.

The council vote came after more than three hours of testimony from police, including two undercover officers, former Del Mar employees and Wrenn, who has owned the motel at 1411 Las Vegas Blvd. South since 1971. A short video the police made about the motel was also played for the council.

Mayor Oscar Goodman abstained from the vote because he missed more than 90 minutes of the hearing while speaking to a group of investment bankers at Wynn Las Vegas.

Wrenn and his attorneys refused to comment after the council vote, except to say that they did not know what they might do next. Wrenn could appeal the council's decision to District Court.

City Councilman Gary Reese said he was unhappy that problems at the Del Mar, which is in his ward, were not resolved earlier and said "there is no need for something like this so close" to areas the city is working to redevelop.

Councilman Michael Mack said the Del Mar was taking valuable police time away from other areas, and said the Del Mar is widely known for "this kind of activity."

Councilman Larry Brown said Del Mar management had the chance to work with Metro Police earlier but chose not too.

"It was not until after the hearing that they offer to work something out," Brown said. "You can't wait until then."

Henry, the city's attorney who argued the case before the council, said Metro officers spoke with Del Mar management six times during the past two years. But motel management was unwilling to cooperate with police.

The evidence and testimony from the city offered Wednesday painted the Del Mar as a motel that knowingly catered to prostitutes and was a magnet for other crime.

Metro's nine-minute video on the Del Mar showed interviews with motel employees and prostitutes, and in the background what appeared to be prostitutes and their customers being dropped off by taxis at the Del Mar.

In the video, a housekeeper, Mary Nile, and desk clerk, Michael Butler, said motel owners know prostitutes frequent the motel. Also, prostitutes said they went to the Del Mar because it was inexpensive, offered free condoms, and they could spend an hour with a customer there.

On weekends, rooms at the Del Mar cost $35 an hour. On weekdays, $35 bought a room for two hours.

Also, for much of the hearing, four large boxes containing a total of 11,955 condoms seized from the motel during a November police raid, sat between the arguing attorneys. Paperwork police also found at the Del Mar indicated the motel gave away 144 condoms daily.

At the beginning of the hearing, Goodman warned the hearing could include testimony or evidence that might not be appropriate for some. The live broadcast of the council meeting on the city's cable station appeared with a warning along the bottom of the screen that read "parental warning this item contains graphic language and content."

The city's case was based largely on the results of a four-month Metro investigation into the Del Mar that lasted from September to January.

In addition to interviews with motel employees and prostitutes, Metro also had officers posing as prostitutes visit the motel.

Two officers who went undercover at the Del Mar testified Wednesday that they told the desk clerk they were prostitutes and he still allowed them to rent rooms.

On separate occasions, the clerk asked an undercover officer if she had a pimp or was working alone, warned an officer that police sometimes come by and said he would use a secret code to let her know if police were there, and once offered them a beer while they waited.

The motel has a history of other crimes: In 1998 the husband of a du Pont family heiress was arrested of arranging to have a prostitute killed at the motel. Her body was found stuffed in an air conditioning duct. He was later convicted.

A Metro Police officer was caught in a sex sting at the motel in 1999 and was arrested. Art Sewell was convicted and later disciplined by the department.

A juvenile probation officer was convicted in 2001 of having sex with a 14-year-old girl at the motel in the late 1990s.

A former Del Mar employee, Richard Shives, testified that "things changed" at the Del Mar after Wrenn's son-in-law Kammer started running the motel in 2002.

Shives said Kammer put red lights -- which in many places identify houses of prostitution -- inside and outside the motel rooms, and eventually Del Mar staff began putting complimentary condoms and peppermints in the rooms.

Wrenn, 81, said the lights were changed to create a softer feel in the rooms. He said the lights are now blue.

Henry said the changes turned the Del Mar from a motel that once had a mix of regular customers and prostitutes into a motel whose customers were entirely prostitutes.

Wrenn said he visits the motel about six times a year and has "very little if any" part in running the business.

Kammer, who did not testify, was paid $40,000 a year when he first took over the motel, and now makes $105,000 a year, Wrenn said, adding that Kammer "tripled the business."

Wrenn said he was very surprised to hear some of his employees might be knowingly working with prostitutes and said he has since demoted the two former desk clerks to housekeeping.

"They are nice people, very cooperative and I guess they got carried away with their cooperativeness," Wrenn told the council.

Wrenn's attorney Clyde DeWitt said Wrenn is "prepared to do things to correct the problem," and "would agree to conditions on operating license."

DeWitt also noted that police found no evidence of prostitutes or anyone else giving Del Mar employees any "kickbacks" in return for letting them use the motel.

DeWitt asked the council not to take away all that Wrenn has worked for.

"Issue a 45-day temporary license and order us to meet with Metro," DeWitt asked the council. "He didn't realize there was that much of that stuff going on."

The council vote technically revoked a temporary license the motel had been operating under since its last license expired on April 30. Because of the council's action on Wednesday, city officials said they will not issue the Del Mar a new license.