By JACK WEATHERLY
Dinesh Chawla, chief executive officer of Chawla Hotels, was arrested last week at the Memphis International Airport for allegedly stealing luggage.
Chawla, who with his brother, Suresh Chawla, operate a chain of hotels and motels in the Delta and are constructing a luxury hotel in Cleveland, an undertaking that until February was a joint venture with the Trump Organization.
The Trump brothers, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, withdrew from the undertaking in February, saying that “harassment” from Democrats had led them to that decision, but praising the Chawlas.
The story of the arrest was broken by WREG, a CBS affiliate in Memphis.
Emails to the Chawla brothers Monday afternoon did not elicit immediate responses.
The $20 million hotel and complex is scheduled to open in the fall.
The New York Times reported that security cameras at the airport showed Dinesh Chawla taking another passenger’s suitcase from the baggage carousel and putting it in his car.
“The airport police said they searched the car and discovered the suitcase and another piece of luggage that had been taken from the airport a month earlier,” The Times reported.
“Mr. Chawla was arrested when he returned to Memphis and . . . admitted to stealing the two bags and their contents, valued at about $4,000, according to a police affidavit.
“The records also said Mr. Chawla had confessed to stealing luggage ‘over a long period of time,’ but it provided no details of other thefts.
“’Mr. Chawla told an officer ‘that he knows stealing luggage is wrong, but he does it for the thrill and excitement,’ the records said.”
In February, after the Trumps and Chawlas announced they were parting way, Dinesh told the Mississippi Business Journal that “we’re fine financially” and “on schedule to open this fall.”
The luxury hotel was to be the first in the Trump Scion chain, and three of the Chawlas’ 18 lodgings were to be converted into a new Trump chain called American Idea. The Trump Organization shelved both chains.
Of the Scion, now called the Lyric, the Trumps were to handle branding and management. The Chawlas invested the capital and qualified for a $6 million tax rebate upon completion and approval of the project.
The Times quoted Eric Trump in February, referring to “harassment” from Democrats, and saying: “We already have the greatest properties in the world and if we have to slow down our growth for the time being, we are happy to do it.
The Trump relations with the Chawlas began in 1988 when the brothers’ father, V.K. Chawla, reached out to Donald Trump Sr. for help starting a motel in Greenwood. Trump called the elder Chawla and suggested that he apply for a minority Small Business Administration loan, which he did successfully.
Chawla is to appear in Shelby County General Sessions Court on Friday at 9 a.m. for selection of his attorney.
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