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10 Valley Massage Parlors Hit in Sting

April 10, 2002|JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Standing in front of Samoa Acupressure in Reseda, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo announced criminal charges Tuesday against similar massage parlors suspected of prostitution or operating without proper licensing.

Samoa Acupressure, which closed March 8, was one of 10 businesses in the San Fernando Valley purporting to provide legal massage, acupressure or aromatherapy that were targeted in February by the Los Angeles Police Department in a sting.

The investigation yielded prostitution charges against six businesses and charges of operating as a massage therapist without a license against five.

"I'm happy to say the business behind me ... has been forced to close its doors," Delgadillo said, calling it "a haven for prostitution."

Charges against four of the businesses are to be filed in Van Nuys and San Fernando courts today. The remaining six cases were filed two weeks ago and are pending trial.

Det. Rick McElroy, who oversaw the sting, said that in one night, undercover officers made arrests at all 10 locations. "This is just one night's effort," he said.

Vice officers used L.A. Express, a sexually explicit newspaper that advertises massage services, as a starting point, McElroy said.

"It's not hard to find these places," he said. "They're all over the city--there's no boundaries."

An undercover officer would pay for a massage at the front door and in many instances would be led to a back room and offered sex for money, McElroy said.

The Valley is a popular place to conduct prostitution under the guise of massage because of its many strip malls, which make it easy for owners to move in and out quickly, said Sgt. Jesse Puente of the LAPD's West Valley Division.

Undercover officers found immigrant Korean and Mexican women living in some of the stores, Puente said. In an earlier investigation at DT Therapy on Winnetka Avenue and Saticoy Street, which advertised aromatherapy, police found Mexican and South American women sleeping on mats on the floor, he added.

DT Therapy closed in September after a two-month investigation.

"That's the place that opened our eyes, that there was a need to check on places like this," Puente said.

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