Illegal motel activities taking toll on neighboring business owners
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Concerns over ongoing criminal activity at the Pittsburgh Motel on Steubenville Pike – including a June 2020 murder – prompted a nearby business owner to approach Robinson commissioners.
By Jamie Wiggan
A Robinson restaurant owner says his business is increasingly suffering from ongoing criminal activity at a nearby motel that sometimes spills over onto his property.
Sang Nam, owner of Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse on Steubenville Pike, told township commissioners June 7 he recently found used needles in his parking lot that security footage showed were discarded by patrons of the neighboring Pittsburgh Motel. He said this is just the latest incident in a string of criminal activity he has witnessed there in the 25 years since he opened for business.
“I’m very stressed,” Nam said. “My customers – they come from everywhere, I don’t want them to see the needles…that’s why I’m here today.”
The approximately 50-unit horseshoe-shaped motel wraps around Sapporo in an unusual configuration that makes many passers-by assume the businesses are affiliated, Nam said during a later interview.
From this vantage point at the center of the horseshoe, Nam said he witnesses a range of apparent criminal activity – including drug sales and prostitution – on a regular basis.
Nam has captured footage of older men arriving in expensive cars and entering rooms for half-hour periods before driving off. One clip shows a man exiting a black Mercedes and turning back to retrieve his wallet before entering the building and emerging again some time later.
“Sometimes they park in my lot,” he said.
In addition to the needles, garbage and other discarded items are frequently flung into his parking lot by motel customers, security footage shows.
“Every morning there’s something else in the parking lot,” Nam said.
But his concerns don’t end there.
In June 2020, a man was shot dead outside one of the motel rooms in full view of the restaurant about 30 minutes before Nam arrived there to start a day’s work.
A criminal complaint filed by Allegheny County police includes statements from an unidentified witness, who said she or he was “attempting to arrange sexual encounters with different males” in a rented room shortly before the shooting.
According to the report, the witness was anticipating the victim and directed the shooter to enter the bathroom before the victim arrived. Upon entering, the victim embraced the witness, before the shooter emerged from the bathroom and shot him repeatedly.
The victim crawled outside, where the shooter emptied another round into him before fleeing the scene. The witness contacted police and helped them track the suspect.
Defendant Jaquay Murray, 26, is awaiting trial in the Allegheny County Jail. He is charged with homicide and three other offenses – but none related to involvement in illegal sex work. Court documents show him living in the 15136 ZIP code while records from unrelated prior arrests list 15207 and 15701.
Robinson Police Chief Tim Westwood urged Nam to “be patient” in response to his comments at the public workshop meeting.
Westwood said his officers have cited the hotel for illegal activity but said court proceedings had been held up by the pandemic.
“We have stacks of reports for the court purposes,” Westwood said. “We’re still waiting for our opportunity to have our day in court with them.”
Westwood did not disclose the nature of the charges filed against the motel business and did not respond to multiple requests for more information about the illegal activity observed by township police, and steps taken in response to it.
“Detectives are there all the time, officers are there all the time,” he said during the meeting. “We have other things going on but we’re not going into details on those.”
Court records show the Pittsburgh Motel has previously been cited for non-traffic citations filed by Robinson Township police.
Separately, back in 2011, the U.S. Marshals’ Fugitive Task Force established a surveillance position outside the motel and subsequently made several drug-related arrests.
Nam and his wife, Chong Kim, say they simply want to get on with running their business.
“I want them to close or clean up, or maybe a better business can come there?” Kim said.