The vice operation began like dozens of others by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, with deputies bursting into a storefront massage parlor near Gardena and arresting two masseuses for prostitution.
But after the raid on the Tokyo Spa last week, deputies stayed around for a while--to operate the business themselves for an evening.
The undercover operation, the first of its kind in the county, resulted in the arrest of six men on suspicion of soliciting prostitution.
If the six men are prosecuted successfully on the misdemeanors, Lt. Joe Callanan said, similar operations may be tried at other massage parlors to make men to think twice before they ask a masseuse for more than a basic rubdown.
"It's kind of frightening from the client's standpoint," said Callanan, who supervised the raid. "They don't know who they are talking to."
Neighbors had complained for months that the Tokyo Spa, which advertised "acupressure" massage, was a front for prostitution, said Lt. Jim Rassman, head of operations at the Lennox sheriff's station.
Deputies raided the cinder-block building at 15223 Crenshaw Blvd., just west of the city of Gardena, Thursday night and arrested two employees who were allegedly charging $30 for sex acts.
South Bay Municipal Court Judge Thomas P. Allen had previously signed an order permitting the deputies to remain at the business.
The spa's receptionist and masseuses were replaced by deputies in plainclothes, Callanan said.
Authorities had expected to arrest more than six customers but they competed for attention with the televised fifth game of the National Basketball Assn. championship series.
"When the Lakers game ended," Callanan said, "there was a sudden surge in business."
'Close the Place Down'
The men were arrested after they offered to pay a female deputy, who they believed was a prostitute, for sex acts, he said.
The deputy would then leave the room, saying she had to get a condom, and return instead with two other deputies.
"We don't want to go in and just arrest the prostitute, like in the old days," Callanan said. "We want to scare the johns, or close the place down altogether."
A "Closed" sign was posted this week at the Tokyo Spa, and no one answered its phone.
Vice officers said the spa is typical of a burgeoning prostitution trade that uses acupressure, skin care and other services as fronts. "They'll use whatever shingle will fit well into the neighborhood," Callanan said. "It's amazing how many of them there are when you drive up and down the street."