Ex-hotel owner faces drug charges

Published 11:15 am Thursday, April 15, 2010

The former owner of the Albert Lea Inn was among the people charged last week in Mower County District Court with charges stemming from two drug raids.

Three Austin residents entered pleas in Mower County court April 8 on charges stemming from two separate drug raids last month.

Jesse Dean Kranz, 25, and Tonya Faye Navarro, 34, each pleaded not guilty to a host of felony drug charges.

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Navarro is the former owner of the Albert Lea Inn on East Main Street. Prior to her owning it was called the Days Inn.

In 2007, she told the Tribune she was looking for a way to provide a secure future for her children, so she and her family moved from Houston, Texas, and took up ownership of the building, knowing nothing about hotel management. Navarro’s prior job was as an oncology nurse.

The hotel venture ended in bankruptcy.

John Robert Frost, 45, pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon and fifth-degree drug possession, both felonies. He awaits sentencing on May 21.

A fourth individual arrested in connection with the searches, Omar Hernandez-Sanchez, 21, pleaded not guilty to multiple felony counts on April 1, including first- and second-degree drug sales charges. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for next month in his case.

The two searches, which law enforcement indicated were not connected, occurred on the morning of March 23. The first search occurred around 7:05 a.m. at a house on the 800 block of Fourth Avenue Northeast in Austin. Representatives of the Austin Police Department, Mower County Sheriff’s Office and the Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gang Task Force breached the door to gain entry.

Downstairs they confronted Frost, who was coming out of a bedroom. That room was searched, and authorities uncovered 1.2 grams of meth, drug paraphernalia and a loaded handgun, according to a criminal complaint.

Upstairs, in a bedroom belonging to Kranz, authorities seized 22 grams of meth, a scale and $614 cash.

The two men were taken to jail and questioned. Frost, who has two prior felony convictions on his record, admitted to possessing the meth found in his bedroom, as well as to owning the gun. However, he said Kranz was the one “doing business,” noting the larger amount of meth found in his room, the complaint states.

Kranz declined to talk about the meth found in the home.

Later that morning, at around 8:15 a.m., the same group of law enforcement officials searched a home in the 400 block of Ninth Street Northwest.

Detained at the home was Hernandez-Sanchez, as well as two small children. Navarro was also detained while taking an older child to school.

Inside the residence, authorities uncovered 12 grams of meth in the kitchen, according to a criminal complaint. Hernandez-Sanchez claimed that the drugs belonged to him and that he used them but did not sell them. When asked about $4,520 cash seized in the house, Hernandez-Sanchez said he got the money from “selling cars.”

He went on to say that neither he nor Navarro had regular jobs, but he did say she had some money from “selling a hotel,” the complaint states.

Austin police Lt. John Mueller said after the two raids that the searches stemmed from ongoing investigations by the drug task force.