The raids were carried out at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday following a year-long investigation into the motels in the 14400 block of Tukwila International Boulevard, said Cmdr. Drever of the Tukwila police.
He said the raids were launched after agents gathered evidence that the owners were involved in illegal activities, including drugs, prostitution and money-laundering.
All of the raids were carried out with lightning swiftness Tuesday after street crews set up a ruse with traffic cones to make it appear that road work was about to begin in the area.
Some 400 officers and agents were involved in the investigation, although not all of them were at the scene of the raids. Officials said raids also were going on at other unspecified locations.
Aerial footage shot by KOMO's Air 4 helicopter at the scene shows officers swarming around the motels and handcuffed suspects under arrest. An armored SWAT vehicle could be seen outside one of the motels.
Drever says federal agents plan to seize the motels, board them up and eventually sell them. The three are identified in court documents as the Boulevard Motel, the Travelers Choice Motel and the Great Bear Motor Inn.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, the three motels by themselves accounted for 17 percent of calls to Tukwila police in 2011 and 2012.
Crimes to which police responded at the three motels included rape, robbery, assault, drug transactions, gun crimes, prostitution and possession of stolen property, court documents say.
In addition, three dead bodies were found in the Travelers Choice Motel between 2009 and 2013, with evidence of drug use in all three cases. Two bodies were found at the Boulevard Motel during the same time period.
Investigators believe the motel owners knowingly allowed the premises to be used for using and selling illegal drugs and that they were able to "profit handsomely" from the illegal activity, according to the case file.
The court documents also say that motel owners knowingly allowed prostitution to take place on the premises and charged extra to those people who came to the motels for that purpose.
According to the affidavit filed in the case, owners and managers would collect a $10 entry fee for those coming on the property seeking drugs or sexual services. The owners or managers would take the money and direct the customer to rooms to purchase drugs or sex.
In some instances the person taking the fee would call the motel room to inform the dealer or sex worker that a customer was on the way. According to witnesses, the owner or manager would collect additional rental fees from the dealer or sex worker based on how many customers were sent to the room over the course of the day.
"These businesses have been a haven for violence and gang activity for several years. Today's operation should have a lasting positive impact on crime in Tukwila," said ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Jim Modzelewski.
Displaced residents from the seized motels will be offered transportation to a nearby church, federal officials said. At the church they will be fed and offered medical and mental health services, and assistance with housing and other needs from several Tukwila city departments and other local, state and federal agencies.
The city of Tukwila also will be providing qualified low-income residents with vouchers for groceries and transportation.