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IRS Raid Is Just Flesh Wound in War on Sex Shop

July 01, 1990|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WHITTIER — The last sex shop has survived again.

Community pickets could not stop it.

The Whittier police lacked jurisdiction.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had its turn, arresting employees and patrons and threatening legal action.

Last month, however, Whittier Book and News pulled through what most taxpayers would consider the ultimate test, a bout with the Internal Revenue Service.

In a June 11 morning raid, the IRS swooped down on Whittier Book and News and several other outlets of the 17-store adult bookstore chain to which it belongs. The government sought merchandise and property worth $495,142 to pay back taxes.

Agents limited the take to items such as video cameras and cash registers.

"The IRS is not in the pornography industry," said an investigator. They left behind a pile of sex magazines, along with X-rated videotapes and sex paraphernalia.

Before local residents could comment on the shop's demise, Whittier Book and News had reopened. Even the IRS could inflict no more than a flesh wound on the last so-called adult business in a once-thriving corridor of strip shows, massage parlors and prostitution.

"The taxpayer cleared their account the next day," said an IRS investigator, who chose to remain anonymous. He added that with interest and penalties, the amount owed by parent company EWAP Inc. far exceeded half a million dollars.

The investigator said the company owed taxes for as far back as September, 1985.

"No comment," said Robert DePiano, the attorney and spokesman for EWAP, when asked why the company had not met its tax obligation for years.

He denied that EWAP stands for Erotic Words and Pictures, as the police said. "There are rumors that it stands for many things," he said. "It's not an acronym. It's just EWAP Inc. I mean, what's IBM? Some people say it stands for International Business Machines, but who knows. It's just known as IBM."

Most of EWAP's outlets, such as the one in Lynwood, bear the name Le Sex Shoppe. DePiano explained that the Whittier location has a different title because not all the material is X-rated. A recent inspection of its bookshelves uncovered Louis L'Amour novels and even a Hardy Boys mystery across the store from books such as "Nominated for Nymph."

By any name, the adult bookstore at 10616 Whittier Blvd. has long been a source of frustration to local law enforcement officers and families living nearby. It moved into the neighborhood in 1977 as a business called Library One during a time when local efforts to oppose adult businesses reached their peak.

"We were one of the main areas of adult-oriented business in Southern California. A little conservative community like Whittier," said Lt. Tom Marino, a station commander with the Whittier Police Department.

He said the first adult business moved to Whittier Boulevard, just east of the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway, in about 1970.

"When one adult business is successful, they come in droves," Assistant Chief of Police Brad Hoover said.

In all, 13 adult bookstores, nude modeling studios and massage parlors called Whittier home by 1975, along with an estimated 60 to 80 prostitutes. Families in the area formed Whittier Area Citizens for Decency Through Law and could dispatch dozens of pickets to shops such as Models in Action, Pick-a-Dilly Models or Magic Touch Massage.

Whittier police, under the direction of Officer Marino, began criminal investigations and what is known as civil abatement procedures against businesses in the red-light district. After gathering evidence to show a pattern of prostitution, the department had the firepower it needed to shut down the operations as public nuisances.

By 1979, only two adult businesses remained, in part because neither was involved in prostitution. The October, 1987, earthquake damaged the former Pussycat Theater downtown, forcing it to shut down. The operators sold out, and the theater is now being renovated as a first-run, multiscreen cinema.

The lone survivor is Whittier Book and News.

There never has been anything Whittier police could do about the cramped, unobtrusive storefront, lodged between a Latino bakery and a printing store that specializes in wedding invitations. The south side of Whittier Boulevard is county territory, in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"I went to the hearings by the county Planning Commission to prevent that bookstore from coming in," Marino said. His efforts failed and EWAP Inc. set up shop even as the city was turning the boulevard's north side from a red-light zone to a strip of grassy park, where children now play pick-up soccer games.

Since last November, the Sheriff's Department has entered the fray. The department has adopted its own civil-abatement strategy, and the outcome is still uncertain.

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