A Flushing family will no longer be offering an incredibly cheap, incredibly dangerous hotel option for cramped, weary travelers, because they’ve all been arrested. Quimin He, 55, his wife, Chun Y Tu, 56, and their son, Xioshan He, 34, were charged with second-degree reckless endangerment, after a yearlong investigation found that they’d hacked up their duplex into “a 15-room hotel that catered to Asian tourists,” according to the Queens District Attorney’s office. Detectives discovered the hotel while investigating reports of illegal cigarettes being sold in the neighborhood. They found those, too, at the next-door neighbor’s house. If you were looking for a $60 hotel room and some untaxed, unlabeled smokes, here’s the part where you’re kicking yourself.
According to a press release sent out Friday from the District Attorney Richard A. Brown’s office, the “high-traffic” hotel was discovered by detectives investigating reports of illegal cigarettes being sold out of a house on Saull Street. When they got a warrant to search Qinghai Wei’s house on October 3, the 50-year-old man was found to have 1,151 cartons of smokes, both American and Asian brands. (Yes. You could’ve bought both American and Asian cigarettes, for probably less than the $14 the guy at the bodega charges you, if you’d just gone to Queens.) The Asian ones don’t have the Surgeon General’s warning, according to the DA, making them illegal for sale in the U.S. Wei is being charged with various violations of the tax code. He faces up to four years if convicted.
While searching Wei’s house at 42-05 Saull, the detectives couldn’t help but notice that lots of people kept going in and out of 42-03 Saull. All of them were carrying luggage. When the detectives checked several Chinese-language websites, including Chinatowninus.com, they found the house was advertised as a hotel with double, triple, and quadruple occupancy options. Double rooms were $60, triples $70, and quads $90. According to the DA, “a premium was charged for private bathrooms, and the location was touted as being near shopping, subways, and gas stations.” According to a disgruntled commenter on a blog called Queens Crap, the family may have been running a hotel there since at least 2007.
The DA’s press release also says that inspectors from the Department of Buildings have tried to enter the home several times over the past year, but were denied access. When they managed to get in, along with the Department of Investigation and the Fire Department, they found an alarming lack of exits, along with no sprinklers, fire alarms, or exit signs. The inspection apparently did not go completely smoothly; Xioshan He, the 34-year-old son, is also being charged with second-degree obstruction of government, for interfering with the arrests of his parents.
Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri sternly reminds you that “illegal conversions can kill–and any property owner who puts lives in danger in order to line their own pockets must be held accountable.” The family faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
The full press release from the DA’s office follows.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 7, 2013