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Huntington Tightens Up on Escort Firms

Law: Because some are fronts for prostitution and related crimes have risen, all must register.

July 14, 2002|STANLEY ALLISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned that prostitution through escort services in Huntington Beach may be growing--and noting an increase in robberies and assaults involving them--the City Council has passed an ordinance requiring escort service operators and their employees to register with police.

Officials say that the number of arrests and crimes linked to escort services is not high, but that the ordinance is a "preemptive strike."

"We're trying to prevent this business from becoming an industry in our town,'' said Lt. Preston Linker, who heads the Police Department's vice squad.

Police recently arrested five women in three sting operations at city hotels, and investigated four thefts or robberies and one rape case linked with escort services.

According to police, many of the companies and individuals advertising in the personals sections of daily and weekly newspapers are outright sex-for-hire operations.

Some have also been linked to robberies and assaults and, in San Clemente, two killings. Two engineers at the San Onofre nuclear power plant were fatally beaten in separate incidents after calling an escort service that operated out of Bellflower.

Typically, clients call women who have placed "pleasure" ads in the papers and arrange to meet, often at a hotel or motel room.

After the woman arrives, she generally asks for the fee that was agreed to over the phone, which police said averages about $200.

The woman then leaves, saying she has to put the money in her car, but does not return, said Linker.

Often, the women are accompanied by male drivers who act as guards but who also rob the clients, police said.

The ordinance, which was approved July 1 and becomes effective July 31, will require companies and individuals to secure permits with the Police Department, and to pay fees ranging from $125 for individuals to $500 for businesses.

The applications entail background checks, inspections of businesses, fingerprints and photos, giving police a clear idea of who is doing business in the city.

The ordinance "allows us to determine at the door if there's a violation," Linker said. If they do business in the city and are not registered, they are operating illegally, he said.

Police Chief Ron Lowenberg said the ordinance will be especially helpful as the city attracts more conventions and visitors after the new 500-room Hyatt on the waterfront opens in February.

Noting that the new hotel increases the potential for more thefts and robberies, he said he hopes the ordinance has a chilling effect on phony escort services.

"Don't come to Huntington Beach and say you're an escort service [if] you're a front for prostitution, because we don't want it," he said.

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