|By Tomoya Shimura, Daily Press,
Victorville, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 02, 2011--VICTORVILLE
--A local hotel owner who was accused of defrauding Orbitz.com out of nearly $850,000 was convicted of grand theft and is facing 270 weekend days in jail.
Ashka Patel, 28, accepted a plea bargain offered by the prosecution, pleading no contest Monday to two felony counts of grand theft in front of Victorville Superior Court Judge Lynn Poncin. Patel will give up about $680,000 authorities seized from her bank accounts after her arrest to pay for the initial portion of the restitution.
The defendant, who's free on bail, is scheduled to return for sentencing on April 19.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Wilkinson said he's still working with the defense to recover the rest of the damages. Patel will also have to do 100 hours of community service at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Victorville station, according to the plea agreement.
However, Brian Watson, Patel's attorney, said he doesn't think there will be additional restitution. The defense attorney said his client never used any of the money from Orbitz and it wasn't her intent to use it.
Patel said she took the plea bargain because it was the best deal. She declined to comment on why she took the money.
T h e p ro s e c u t i o n alleged Patel went to Orbitz.com and booked a room for several nights. After Orbitz charged the credit card and relayed the funds to one of two local hotels Patel is involved with, she would, acting as the customer, cancel the transaction. Orbitz would then reimburse her credit card, with the expectation that the hotel would pay the money back to the Chicago-based company, authorities said.
Instead, Patel withheld $848,000 from Orbitz from December 2008 until November 2009, when Orbitz officials reported the suspected fraud to local authorities, Wilkinson said.
The majority of the fraud was committed through the Travel Inn Motel on Seventh Street, but prosecutors said a small amount was processed through the Days Inn on Park Avenue.
Patel has repeatedly identified herself to the Daily Press as the owner of both of these hotels. But after a story on her arrest appeared in the newspaper in February 2010 calling Patel the owner, she denied this was true. She declined to comment Tuesday on the ownership of the hotels.
Records show that Mo h m e d " Kev i n" Chauhan holds the business license for the Travel Inn, but Patel is listed as the agent for the hotel with the California Secretary of State.
A number of sources have reported that, prior to her arrest, Patel was being prepped for a run at a Victorville City Council seat in the fall of 2010.
Patel had been serving on the city's Community S e r v i ce Ad v i s o r y Committee but stepped down in December 2009 -- the same day longtime planning commissioner Manuel Hinojos announced he was resigning to move to Apple Valley.
H i n o j o s wa s C o u n c i l m a n M i ke Rothschild's appointee, leaving it to him to find a replacement.
Ro t h s c h i l d s a i d Tuesday he had known Patel for about two years at the time and was considering her a good candidate for City Council, a position she had shown interest in. He said Patel was one of three candidates he planned to interview for his appointment to the city's Planning Commission until he learned of the fraud allegations against her.
"When I was made aware of the investigation, I gave her a call and indicated that I would not consider her as the planning commissioner," Rothschild said, adding any legal issue was a problem for him.
Patel declined to comment on any political aims she may have had.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
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