By Joe Dana, Arizona Republic
Two hotel chains with Mesa franchisees are accused in Maricopa County Superior Court civil complaints of failing to screen a high-level sex offender before hiring him as a night-shift clerk.
The complaints stem from police reports in which two hotel guests alleged the clerk used a master key to enter their rooms and rape them. Mesa police in December recommended filing sexual assault charges against the 40-year-old registered offender. However, investigators did not arrest the man at the time of either alleged assault, citing a lack of probable cause.
A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said a single criminal complaint against the suspect remains under review. Azcentral and 12 News are not naming the man because he has not been charged with any crime in relation to the hotel incidents.
The level-three registered sex offender was working as a trainee at Best Western Superstition Springs Inn in Mesa in 2011, and at Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites in Mesa in 2012, when the alleged attacks occurred.
Level-three offenders are considered to be the most likely to re-offend. The employee was convicted in 1996 of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and is registered on the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Registry. According to police records, there is no indication that the hotels conducted background checks on the individual when he applied.
Brigham Cluff is one of two attorneys who filed the civil complaint last week against the hotels on behalf of the alleged rape victims, seeking an unspecified amount of money for damages.
"These women were targeted by the hotel clerk," Cluff said. "The hotels have a legal duty to provide a reasonably safe environment, provide reasonable security - and in this case they really blew it."
Representatives of Marriott International did not respond to email and phone requests for comment. An attorney for Marriott's franchise company, MLEM Properties, which runs the Mesa hotel, also declined comment.
Mike Wimbush, of MLEM Properties, is quoted in a Mesa police report as telling investigators he typically does not conduct background checks on front desk clerks.
The franchise owner of the Best Western Hotel where the attack is alleged to have occurred in 2011 did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.
Laura Cherry, public relations manager for Best Western International, issued an email statement saying: "Best Western branded hotels are independently owned and operated. Noting the matter is the subject of litigation, Best Western International's policy is to not provide comment."
In both incidents, Mesa police declined to arrest the employee after conducting interviews with hotel employees and the alleged victims. In the 2012 case at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites, the alleged victim told police she had been drinking heavily that evening. She claimed the employee groped her and kissed her in a stairwell. She also told police she was bipolar and that she had a tendency to act out sexually.
The woman told investigators she had just returned to her hotel room from the pool around 1 a.m. when the clerk opened the door to her room. He forced her onto her bed and raped her, she alleged.
"(She) said she called family members to ask for advice on what she should do. They advised (her) to call the police. (She) said she did not call the police because she felt she would not be believed," the investigator wrote.
Two hours later, the woman went downstairs and confronted the clerk and yelled at him and said she would tell the manager about what he did. She told police she swam again and went back to her room and left the hotel later that morning. She later took a cab to the hotel and drove to the nearest hospital where she told doctors she had been raped, according to the report. She later told police she wanted to assist in prosecution.
Evidence gathered by investigators appeared to contradict the employee's account of what happened. He said he did not use his master key to open the woman's hotel door after 1 a.m. on the night of the alleged rape. Instead, he told police he noticed the woman's hotel room door was open and he discovered she was passed out on the floor in her room. He said he entered the room and helped the woman get into her bed and then left.
However, surveillance video and a computer key log showed that the employee used his key to open her door at 1:16 a.m., then entered her room and left nearly ten minutes later, according to the report.
Nine days after the alleged incident, Mesa police contacted the employee again to interview him further.
"(He) said he had nothing to hide. (He) agree to meet me," the investigator wrote. However, according to the police report, the employee later left a voice mail with police stating he would not be meeting with the officer and that he had nothing to add to written testimony he had provided police.
DNA forensic tests were inconclusive, according to the police report.
In the 2011 case, the alleged victim told police she was homeless and had been staying at the hotel for more than a month. She said she was asleep in her hotel room when she woke up abruptly at around 11:30 p.m. and saw the hotel clerk standing near her bed. She alleged that he raped her and told her not to tell anyone because he didn't want to lose his job.
That alleged victim also told police she stayed another night in the same hotel and delayed reporting the incident to police because she had been arrested for drunken driving and had been accused of doing drugs.
"The state has not been good to me," she told investigators. She did not consent to a medical exam during her first interview with police. Three days later she told police she would assist with prosecution. Garments she said she wore when she was raped were given to police for testing.
Investigators said the employee provided DNA for testing as well.
"I told (the employee) I believe something happened and he stated he never had sex with (her)," the detective wrote in an investigative report. The detective submitted saliva samples from the employee to the Mesa Police Forensic Lab for analysis. However, according to the report, fifteen days after the DNA was submitted, the forensics lab contacted the officer with another request.
"The lab notified me they need a sample from (the hotel guest) to process the male DNA, as female DNA was located on the underwear as well," the detective wrote. "Currently I do not have a location for (her) as she doesn't have a phone or address. If I can locate (her) and obtain a DNA sample I will have it processed," the detective wrote. He concluded that the case would be inactivated due to the fact there was not criminal probable cause.
Two months later, an investigator wrote that the alleged victim did not have an address or phone number and that her contact information was unknown. He wrote that the case was being inactivated due to a lack of probable cause.