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Alpine Motel owner was part of federal drugs, cartel investigation

Updated April 3, 2020 - 9:05 am

Alpine Motel Apartments owner Adolfo Orozco and his properties were part of a 2019 Homeland Security investigation into drugs, guns and money laundering linked to the Mexican Mafia and unnamed cartels, records obtained by the Review-Journal show.

Special Agent Eric Curry said Monday that the investigation is “ongoing,” but he would not comment on th target or targets of the probe.

The Review-Journal received the records in response to a request about city actions surrounding the fire at the Alpine in downtown Las Vegas, which killed six and left dozens injured and homeless in December 2019.

“All things evolve, but we’re not going to give you specifics about the people that we’re looking at,” Curry said, adding they are not necessarily targeting Orozco.

Homeland spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe emailed a statement: “This is an ongoing investigation, therefore detailed information is not currently available.”

In April 2019, Curry wrote Las Vegas city business licensing officials asking for information about Orozco; his wife, Erika Ayala-Aguilar; Linda Smith, one of his employees who worked at the Alpine; and four properties connected to Orozco. Smith acquired a business license on behalf of Orozco, Curry’s email said.

Smith, who previous records show was a property manager at the Alpine, could not be reached for comment.

Inspection questions

The Review-Journal previously reported that records show the Alpine had not been inspected by fire officials for more than 30 months before the Dec. 21 fire, despite a history of failed inspections going back more than a decade. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers are investigating the blaze.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case, as of Tuesday.

The emails released last week show that city officials were asked to stay away from the properties or at least notify federal agents if they planned enforcement actions.

“As far as staying away from the properties is concerned, I think that would be best for the immediate future,” Curry wrote a Las Vegas business licensing officer on April 13, 2019. “However, please notify me in advance if you were planning any action against the properties or owner. Our multi-agency investigation is still ongoing, but we have identified several violations of Federal Law and other ways to target the aforementioned properties and individuals.”

Ten days later, business licensing officials notified fire inspectors to avoid the Alpine, Economy and Dragon motels.

“Our office has received a request from the Department of Homeland Security to stay away from the below properties until further notice,” wrote Latania Webb, business license section manager, in an email to Nolan and other fire officials. “They have an ongoing investigation and don’t want any of us to get caught up in the middle of it. Please forward this info to your area officers.”

Around the same time, on April 15, 2019, Alpine resident Paul Wise sent a request to the Southern Nevada Health District to inspect his apartment for sanitary problems, records show. His request ended up at the city. Wise, 76, in a brief phone interview, confirmed that nothing was done about his complaint but declined to comment further on the advice of his attorney.

The emails raise questions about whether the federal investigation contributed to the lapse in fire inspections, but fire, police and city officials declined comment.

One of Orozco’s attorneys, Dominic Gentile, said he wasn’t surprised that drugs might be dealt in Las Vegas hotels, but was surprised to hear Orozco and his properties were part of a federal drug and money laundering probe. He said he conducted an extensive background check of his client and found no criminal connections.

“This is the first I’m hearing of anything like this,” he said, adding he is going to address it with his client. “Any of these (allegations) are way beyond the scope of anything I’ve been involved in so far. They’re pretty stunning.”

Adolfo Orozco, also known as Orozco-Garcia, has repeatedly declined interview requests.

Homeland investigation

On April 12, 2019, Curry filed a records request with the city’s licensing department about the Economy Motel, Alpine Motel Apartments, Starlite Motel and Casa Blanca Motel, as well as the Dragon Hotel that Orozco sold in 2013, emails show.

The request also lists the Lucky Club Casino and Hotel, which has no known connection to Orozco.

About a week later, Webb wrote Curry asking him whether he knows when agents will be “hitting” the properties and asking for more information about the case. Webb declined comment Monday.

Curry responded the next day with an email that describes his investigation as “transnational,” targeting two foreign countries and several properties in the United States.

“Intelligence and investigative efforts indicate that our Target actively coordinates the illegal importation of narcotics from Mexico to various motels throughout the United States, as well as, their subsequent distribution and sales in coordination with Mexican Mafia members and various gangs and cartel affiliates,” he wrote April 19, 2019. “Other illicit activities based from our Target’s motels include: interstate bulk cash smuggling, money laundering, the unlawful purchase and sale of firearms, theft of motor vehicles, employment fraud, real estate fraud, tax fraud and prostitution. Several of the motels are clustered in the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas areas as you are aware.”

Curry wrote that there is no fixed time for action against the properties, but Curry and his team, based out of Nogales, Arizona, were planning a trip to Las Vegas in May 2019. It’s not clear if that trip happened.

Gentile said the fact that federal agents haven’t made arrests in nearly a year likely means they have no case.

“If they had probable cause already, they would have done something already,” he said.

Gentile also questioned whether rumors of Orozco’s involvement in illegal activities among community members could be a form of racism.

“To have a Hispanic person that has accumulated some property and to have someone speculate that is because he is somehow connected to a drug cartel wouldn’t shock me today,” he said.

LVMPD officers also obtained a search warrant for Orozco’s phone as part of their investigation into the fatal fire. And the families of several people who died in the fire have filed lawsuits against Orozco.

City lapses

Las Vegas Fire Marshal Robert Nolan said after the fire that his department dropped the ball in failing to inspect the Alpine for years before the fire.

“That’s on me,” Nolan told the Review-Journal in January. “In hindsight, I wish we would have gone back there.”

Reached Monday, he declined comment.

“I’m not going to comment any more on the Alpine issue,” he said, directing questions to public information officers.

It is not clear why the city failed to inspect the properties for years, but emails show Curry told business licensing officials months before the fire that they should wait on any enforcement actions against the properties.

On April 18, 2019, Webb emailed Curry that she directed her licensing staff to avoid Orozco’s properties at his request.

After the December fatal fire, records show, city workers were deciding whether the DHS request to avoid the properties still was in force.

Fire Captain Erik Jones wrote LVMPD Capt. Fred Haas on Jan. 9 asking whether fire officials should continue to avoid the Alpine because of the federal investigation, emails show.

“We received this DHS request some time ago and want to find out if it’s still a request they need us to honor,” he wrote. Jones declined comment Monday.

On Jan. 14, Haas, who also declined comment to the Review-Journal on Monday, responded that Metro is short a DHS intelligence officer and DHS has not responded to his inquiry.

On Jan. 22, Haas wrote Jones again saying they should investigate the fatal motel fire.

“Based on the lack of response from DHS I would just move forward with your investigations,” he wrote.

Curry told the Review-Journal on Monday that his intent was not to block any city inspections or investigations.

“I just told them to notify me if they did anything,” he said.

Problem history

The Review-Journal found that the Alpine had not been inspected since April 2017 and fire inspectors found 42 fire code violations, including a bolted exit door and missing or defective smoke detectors in 14 places throughout the property.

Orozco acquired the Alpine in 2013 for $805,000 under Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, one of four companies he and Ayala manage or have ownership stakes in, including Elite1 LLC, Galeana LLC and Cancun LLC. Las Vegas Dragon Hotel bought three more hotels: the Economy Motel in downtown Las Vegas and the Casa Blanca Hotel and Starlite Motel in North Las Vegas.

Orozco has owned the Alpine since 2013, and city records show the property repeatedly failed fire inspections between 2013 and 2017.

Years before, in 2004, Orozco bought his first local property, the Dragon Motel in downtown Las Vegas, for $1.55 million. In 2013, Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project purchased the Dragon Motel for $1.15 million more than Orozco had originally paid for it.

A former schoolteacher in Napa, California, Orozco acquired the Dragon Hotel in 2004 but later transferred it to his company Dragon Hotels LLC. He sold it through the LLC in 2013 about the time he moved to Las Vegas. He also acquired other properties through his LLC: the Economy in 2012, the Casa Blanca in 2015 and the Starlite in 2016, records show.

Attorneys and owners of the Dragon and Lucky Club could not be reached for comment.

Gentile declined to make his client available for an interview, but promised to call back if Orozco wanted to provide additional comment for the story.

“I got to tell you this comes as very much of a surprise,” he said.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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