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Press Release

Two Men Sentenced to Prison for Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises at Motel in Albuquerque

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and Towanda R. Thorne-James, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration El Paso Division, announced today that Pragneshkumar Patel and Johnathan Craft were sentenced to 30 and 70 months in prison, respectively, for their part in running a drug-involved premises at a motel in Southwest Albuquerque. Additionally, Patel was ordered to pay fines in the amount of $40,000 and $9,000 in restitution and ordered to forfeit the Best Choice Inn at 7640 Central Avenue SE in Albuquerque. Patel, 36, of Mobile, Alabama, pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises and Craft, 37, of Albuquerque, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm on July 13, 2023.

A federal grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment against Patel, Craft and their co-defendant Kamal Bhula, on November 5, 2019. According to publicly available court records, between March 2018 and June 2019, Patel leased the Best Choice Inn to Bhula, who took over as the on-site manager. Craft lived and worked at Best Choice Inn as a manager, claiming to be in charge when Bhula was away. Craft sold drugs from his room, allowed others to do the same, and permitted individuals to use drugs on the premises. The Best Choice Inn gained profits by imposing a “visitor fee” on individuals who frequented the establishment. As a manager, Craft knew that many of the people for whom a visitor fee was imposed specifically frequented the business to engage in illegal activity, including selling and using drugs. As the owner, Patel profited from the visitor fees imposed on those using and selling drugs at the Best Choice Inn.

“Drug traffickers exploit vulnerable members of our community to generate profits,” said U.S. Attorney Alexander Uballez. “These individuals face enough challenges without predatory business owners using addiction to drive corporate profits. When this greedy out-of-state hotel owner capitalized on the desperation of the most marginalized New Mexicans to line his own pockets, he lost his hotel, tens of thousands of dollars, and his freedom.”

“One of our core missions is to make our communities safer and healthier,” said Towanda R. Thorne-James, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s El Paso Division. “The men and women of the DEA will not tolerate local businesses masquerading as legitimate enterprises in order to carry on their illegal drug trafficking.”

“These sentences are a testament to the power of strength in numbers,” said Jason T. Stevens, acting special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “This multi-agency investigation discovered a dangerous threat to public safety. HSI’s drug-trafficking investigative efforts are a top priority, and our special agents are committed to targeting individuals and trans-national organizations that make it their business to poison our communities for their financial gain.”

Upon their release from prison, Patel and Craft will each be subject to three years supervised release.

Kamal Bhula pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises on July 13, 2023, and remains in custody pending sentencing which is scheduled on March 26, 2024.

The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated this case with assistance from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant United States Attorneys Letitia Carroll Simms and Jack E. Burkhead are prosecuting the case.

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Updated February 13, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 24-68