SOUTH GATE — For some time, officials in this industrial, working-class community have felt that the city was being cheated out of its fair share of taxes from motel-room rentals.
Mayor John S. Sheehy said officials also suspected that one of the reasons motels were underpaying the 8% levy was that many of their customers were prostitutes.
A "full-scale sting operation" at all 32 motels in the city, Sheehy said, showed plenty of motels were ready to rent to undercover agents who identified themselves as prostitutes and their customers.
As Sheehy put it: "Behold, we had disastrous results."
Ten people, including one juvenile, were arrested on suspicion of keeping a disorderly house for the purpose of prostitution. Arrest warrants have been issued for two others. All those arrested were either managers or clerks at 12 motels, police said.
"We are not naive enough to believe we have found a permanent solution to the world's oldest profession, but we have got to take a whack at it every once in a while," Sheehy said.
The arrests were made just before the new year, following a 2 1/2-month investigation, said Police Chief Norman E. Phillips.
Male undercover officers posing as customers and female undercover officers posing as prostitutes visited each of the motels at least six times and made it clear that they wanted to engage in illicit sex at the motel, said Lt. Mike Blaska, operations lieutenant. The undercover officers even found that they qualified for discount rates, Blaska said.
Although the Police Department said it received approval from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office that the planned sting was legally correct, an attorney for Sumitre Patel, one of those arrested, said that there may have been discrimination against motels owned or operated by Indians.
Bail Called Excessive
Nine of the 12 arrested were of Indian ancestry and the $10,000 bail, was much too high for the misdemeanor charge, said Los Angeles attorney Frank A. Weiser.
"It is very, very clear in my mind there is a concentrated effort to shut down these motels," said Weiser, who is also legal counsel for Southern California IHM Motel, Hotel Inc., an organization of Indian motel and hotel owners. The organization helped arrange bail for the Indians, Weiser said.
South Gate City Atty. Bruce M. Boogaard called Weiser's allegations absurd.
"We approached all 32 motels in the city to prevent such a charge. We had one person of Chinese ancestry, one of Anglo-Saxon ancestry" under arrest, he said. "I can't explain why most were of Indian ancestry. That's the way the cards fell."
As far as the high bail is concerned, Boogaard said the city does not set bail. "The court sets bail," he said.
'We Are Attacking an Evil'
Other city officials also deny any discrimination. "We're not picking on anyone. We are attacking an evil that brings in drugs and crime," said Vice Mayor Henry C. Gonzalez.
Nine of the 12 defendants are to be arraigned in South Gate Municipal Court Jan. 21. The 17-year-old juvenile was released in her parents' custody and her case will be handled in juvenile court.
Those arrested on the prostitution-related charges were Sumitre Patel, 23; Parul Patel, 24; Pravinkumar Desai, 34; Anthony Parmar, 49; Kankuben Patel, 34; Champa Patel, 37; Rachel Marin, 60; William Woodford, 47, and Ramchandra Bhagat, 44, who was also was charged with battery.
Police said arrest warrants are outstanding for Vieh Chi Nhan and Bhikju Patel, both 30. Sgt. Russell Beecher said both men were believed to be out of the city.