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Fountain Valley Plans Prostitution Cleanup Using New State Law

October 10, 2002|MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fountain Valley plans to become the first city to use a new state law aimed at cracking down on prostitution rings that operate out of chiropractic offices.

The law was inspired by a string of cases in Orange County. It gives cities the power to require licensing and training for massage therapists who work for chiropractors.

Fountain Valley on Tuesday will vote on an ordinance that requires therapists to obtain 500 hours of training, pass a national certification test and undergo a background check. Other cities are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

The law is being greeted with a mixed reaction from chiropractors, who have long fought to elevate the image of their profession. The rash of arrests for prostitution at chiropractic offices hasn't helped that image, but some believe the law goes too far.

"This is just a typical overreaction," said Beverly May, director of government relations for the California chapter of the American Massage Therapy Assn., which has 3,200 members in the state.

May said that the kind of licensing the law allows isn't needed and that many massage therapists undergo extensive training. The law would make them go back for more training, which could cost as much as $400.

"It's very expensive," added Sue DeCant, who runs her husband's chiropractic office in Mission Viejo. "For someone who's been legitimately in the business for 20 years, they'd have to get more training. That's almost like a double blow to them."

She said the law is picking on the entire profession for "something that a few did."

Officials said the rules will help them monitor activities at the offices. Some prostitution rings have hired chiropractors to work as fronts, placing prostitutes to work as "therapists."

"We have had many chiropractic offices that have used that exemption to run houses of prostitution," said Alan Burns, Fountain Valley city attorney.

"It's a pretty big deal because this may fix the problem," he said.

Statewide, more than 40 chiropractors have been accused of allowing or sponsoring prostitution in their establishments. Fountain Valley, Anaheim and Westminster police have made several arrests of chiropractors and prostitutes in the last two years.

Burns cited a four-month investigation into a Fountain Valley office that led to the conviction of three chiropractors and an office manager.

Chiropractic offices have been attractive as fronts for prostitution because of the way they are regulated. Although chiropractors must be licensed, the state has allowed them to hire unlicensed assistants.

By contrast, assistants at massage parlors often are required to hold massage licenses and register with city officials. The new law, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) and signed by Gov. Gray Davis, extends those requirements to therapists at chiropractic offices.

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