According to a criminal complaint, Bhakta purchased and began operating the Desert Star Motel at 516 South Union Avenue in Bakersfield in 2015. Bhakta lived in a unit at the motel. Drees also lived at the motel and was employed as a handyman and general manager.
Since 2015, the Bakersfield Police Department has made numerous prostitution-related arrests at the property. In May 2019, an investigation confirmed that Darnell Edwards forced two minor females to engage in prostitution at the Desert Star. On Nov. 7, 2019, Edwards was indicted for sex trafficking of minors. When a search warrant was executed at the Desert Star on Jan. 22, 2021, fifteen prostitutes and three pimps were encountered. Drees and Bhakta were arrested at that time.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Some of the federal and state resources available on this topic are available at the Department of Justice website and the California Attorney General’s website.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, contact the Homeland Security Investigations’ Blue Campaign at 1-866-347-2423 or get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
Report missing children, child pornography, or sexual exploitation of a child online to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or https://report.cybertip.org/.
The investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by the Bakersfield offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Bakersfield Police Department, and the Parole Division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Gappa is prosecuting the case.