The owner of the Delta Inn at 1320 Behrens Circle was arrested Thursday on a third-degree felony charge of exploitation of a disabled person after a joint investigation by the Bellmead Police Department and McLennan County Sheriff's Office.

Manish Demla, 40, paid a man he knew to be disabled at least 40% less than fair market value for maintenance, landscaping and other services he provided, according to an arrest affidavit.

"This is just another effort on the part of the sheriff's office and Bellmead police to address the problem of people preying on elderly and disabled," Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.

The man, who police confirmed is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and other conditions, contacted Bellmead police in May and claimed he was a victim of labor trafficking, according to the affidavit. He told investigators Demla paid him in cash because he receives Social Security benefits.

Jason Milam, Demla's attorney, said Demla employed the man and bought him equipment to use for work at the property.

"This is truly a case of no good deed goes unpunished," Milam said. "Mr. Demla employed a disabled person, even bought him the tools of his trade and paid him a fair wage of $8 per hour for every hour of work he performed. I cannot imagine why the police would become involved in a case like this one.

"It is truly a novel and preposterous area of prosecution and we look forward to having Mr. Demla's day in court and having his name vindicated."

He said Demla paid the man cash because the man did not have a checking account and cash payments would be more convenient for the man.

"(The victim) states that he worked approximately eight hours a day when he does work for Demla," according to the affidavit. "He states that the most he was paid in a day was $60 for maintenance; however he was given a room for $45, thus he was only making approximately $15. He states that he is on average only paid between $20 to $30 to take care of the property at the Delta Inn, doing yard maintenance as well.

"He further added that he was supposed to be paid to do work in a flower bed, however Demla refused to pay him for that work, also."

When Sheriff's Office Detective Joseph Scaramucci asked Delta Inn management for receipts documenting the man's pay, Demla confirmed the man stays at the hotel and does work for him and gave indications he is aware the man has a mental health condition, the affidavit states.

After further investigation, Demla was arrested and taken to McLennan County Jail. He posted bond listed at $5,000 and was released Friday afternoon.

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Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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