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Deputies collect hotel's unpaid tax money

April 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies are stationed in the lobby of the Wilshire Hotel in Koreatown, seizing money to make good on unpaid taxes.

Earlier Friday there were at least four deputies at the hotel, two of them in uniform, two of them in plain clothes. They are collecting the money as it comes in. They're collecting at least a percentage of the money to pay off debt: A court found that the hotel had illegally withheld millions of dollars in "bed tax" money.

There were four "keepers" in the lobby waiting for the money to come in Friday. There's an agreement where credit cards are taken for the 385 guest rooms. It's cash-only elsewhere. The keepers will stay until the nearly $3.5 million debt is paid to the city.

"That's our money. They take hold of it and then they spend it someplace else or they don't pay us? That's a hidden profit -- that doesn't wash," said L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.

Trutanich also levied three hotel bank accounts to pay part of the debt.

The hotel's problems didn't seem to have any visible impact.

"Everything's operating just as normal, correct. Check in with a credit card, check out with a credit card, like any hotel," said Wilshire Hotel General Manager Paul Birchall. "Everything is with a credit card at the moment."

The keepers arrived four days ago.

It's the first case where the city attorney has hired keepers to collect cash, but not the first time the office has gone to court over unpaid city taxes. Prestige Parking has been ordered to pay $4.4 million. Its owner has been sentenced to 180 days in jail.

But at the hotel, Trutanich says the keepers will stay until the debt is paid.

"We got the debt early enough, it was referred to us, we got on it, we got a judgment, and we moved on the judgment," said Trutanich. "They couldn't hide their assets."

So far they've collected some $40,000 -- a long way to go to that $3.5 million.