Thursday, January 18, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 18, 2001

Officials shut down apartments allegedly used for prostitution

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii County authorities have closed a Hilo apartment house they say was used for prostitution and drug sales.

Eighteen tenants — nine men and nine women — at the Mauna Loa apartments were evicted and ordered to stay away from the building at 76 Kilauea Ave. or face six months in jail and fines of $400 for contempt of court.

"It was really, really bad," said businessman Jeffrey Enriques, who filed an affidavit to support a civil abatement action initiated last week by Deputy Prosecutor Mitchell Roth.

Enriques, general manager of the family-owned Garden Exchange across the street from the 20-room apartment building, said he was losing customers because of the foul language, lewdness and odors emanating from the Mauna Loa.

"It’s tough enough doing business in downtown Hilo as it is," he said yesterday. Evening and morning joggers have been avoiding the street because of safety concerns, Enriques said.

Judge Greg Nakamura issued the order Thursday based on Roth’s complaint and affidavits by police officials, Enriques and another business owner. Others in the downtown neighborhood were alarmed at the activity at the apartment house but chose not to get involved because they feared retribution, Enriques said.

Just 100 yards from the Mauna Loa stands the now-padlocked Kilauea Hotel, which was seized in 1998 by federal officials in response to similar illegal activities taking place there.

The owner of the Mauna Loa apartments, identified in court records as Alex Sagasay of Honolulu, will be allowed to keep his building because he has been cooperating in trying to clean up the property, Roth said.

Among the information the judge received before acting last week was an affidavit from Hawaii County Police Department vice officer Lucille Melemai, who described 17 undercover drug buys at the site over a 15-month period.

Roth is due to return to court Jan. 31 to possibly ask for a permanent injunction to keep the building closed.

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