The small business almost directly across the street from West Hollywood City Hall is owned by the chairman of a college business department, and local authorities agree it does a substantial trade. Their problem is with the nature of the business.
They say the educator's company, 20th Century Travel Advisors Inc., runs a house of prostitution.
Hal Mintz, chairman of the business department at East Los Angeles College, counters that he owns "the cleanest massage parlor in California."
At issue is an attempt by West Hollywood to close down Mintz's storefront operation at 8574 Santa Monica Blvd. "The evidence is substantial and compelling as to the nature of the activities there," said Paul Self, the city's business license officer.
After months of accusations and legal maneuvers, the city's Business License Commission voted 3 to 1 in July to revoke the license of 20th Century Travel Advisors, which does business as the Beverly Hills Massage Parlor.
The City Council on Monday began considering an appeal of the commission's ruling by the parlor's owner, who claims that the accusations are "politically inspired."
"They have been picking on us for a long time now. We run a clean operation over there," Mintz said.
The massage parlor, which employs about a dozen masseuses, has continued to operate pending a decision by the council. A ruling is expected next week.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, at least 10 women have been arrested on sex-related offenses there since 1984.
The arrests were part of a seven-count list of accusations brought before the council Monday. Self said the arrests constitute "a clear and prolonged pattern of disregard for the law."
TV cameras routinely bring City Council proceedings into the homes of West Hollywood cable subscribers, but much of the language used Monday would not pass muster with network censors as a sheriff's vice officer testified in detail about alleged sexual misconduct inside the establishment.
At one point, Mayor Alan Viterbi felt compelled to remind viewers with children at home that "parental discretion is advised."
Deputy Charles Anderson told of arresting three women at the massage parlor in August after paying $65 for a massage. He said one of the women requested a $100 "tip" in return for sexual favors.
Mintz's problems began a year ago, when the Sheriff's Department recommended that the business license not be renewed in an annual hearing before the commission required of all "adult" businesses in West Hollywood.
In a letter to the commission, Arthur D. Avila, the president of East Los Angeles College, praised Mintz as "one of our most active and distinguished faculty members."
Mintz teaches business law at the college where he has served as president of the Academic Senate on three occasions.
Mintz alleges that his troubles stem from a dispute with Mike Talla, the owner of the Sports Connection, an upscale fitness center next door to the massage parlor.
Talla "wants to run me out of business so he can buy the building we're in at discount and put up a parking lot," Mintz said. "After 20 years in operation, all of a sudden, this investigation comes along."
He accused Talla of starting the case by hiring a private investigator to have sexual relations with his masseuses in order to provide evidence that could be used against the business.
In an interview, Talla said he has never expressed interest in buying the building but made no secret of his efforts to "do my part" in closing down the massage parlor.
"Sure, I did it," he said of hiring the investigator.
In testimony before the Business License Commission, Jerry Walton, an investigator for a Beverly Hills law firm, said he had sexual relations with a female employee each of two times he visited the massage parlor.
Talla called the massage parlor's presence in the heart of West Hollywood "a shame and a disgrace."
Mintz said he has had the massage parlor for 20 years and dismissed the number of arrests as "very light for the volume of business we do." He said more than 200,000 massages have been given at the parlor since it opened. The corporate name was picked because he also used to run a travel advisory service at the location, he said.
'Running a Good Ship'
"Over the years we've had vice officers who've come in later tell us to keep up the good work, that we're running a good ship," Mintz said.
"You're always going to have some girls who will be prone to that sort of thing, but we've been very careful to weed them out."
But several vice officers painted a different picture of the business.
They described massage booths behind triple-locked doors, some equipped with video equipment showing X-rated movies and attended by scantily clad women whose income depends on sexual favors.