Former Trump hotel partner charged in airport luggage theft

Photo: AP

A Mississippi hotelier who had sought to open new hotels in partnership with President Donald Trump’s family has been arrested on charges of stealing luggage from a Tennessee airport.

Dinesh Chawla of Cleveland, Mississippi, was arrested Thursday at the Memphis airport and charged with two counts of felony theft.

A sworn statement from a police officer obtained by The Associated Press says Chawla was seen on Aug. 18 on airport security cameras taking a suitcase from a baggage claim conveyor belt, putting it in his SUV, and then returning inside the airport to depart on a flight.

While Chawla was away, police towed his vehicle, obtained a search warrant and found a second piece of luggage identified as stolen from the Memphis airport on July 16.

Chawla was arrested Thursday after flying back to Memphis from Orlando, Florida. The police statement says Chawla confessed to stealing the two bags in question “as well as other thefts in the past.”

The value of the suitcase and its contents taken Aug. 18 is reported at $2,599, while the bag and contents taken in July is valued at $1,300.

Chawla is free on $5,000 bail and didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment late Monday. It’s unclear if he has a lawyer. A court hearing is set Friday.

Chawla is the CEO of Chawla Hotels, a family company that owns 17 hotels in Mississippi. The Trump family gave up on the two new hotel franchises that Chawla intended to license in February, with Eric Trump blaming politics. A high-end hotel that Chawla is building in Cleveland and intended to franchise under a proposed Trump brand remains under construction.

Chawla received widespread attention after agreeing to open the Trump-franchised hotels, facing questions about tax breaks granted him by the state of Mississippi. The family has a longstanding connection to Trump — Chawla’s father, V.K. Chawla, sought Trump’s advice in 1988 when seeking to start a motel in Greenwood. Trump called the elder Chawla and suggested that he apply for a minority Small Business Administration loan. Dinesh Chawla and his younger brother Suresh have steadily expanded the business, operating nationally franchised hotels in a series of Mississippi Delta towns.

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