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L.A. seeks to thwart sex trade on Figueroa

Injunction would keep 36 prostitutes and five pimps off a 5.7-mile stretch in South L.A.

May 13, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said Monday that he had asked a judge to bar 36 convicted prostitutes and five pimps from walking anywhere on a 5.7-mile stretch of Figueroa Street, part of a larger effort to crack down on a brazen sex trade in South Los Angeles.

Delgadillo's proposed injunction is designed to provide relief for neighborhoods along Figueroa, which police say is the busiest corridor for prostitution in the city.

Prostitutes work the sidewalks in broad daylight, standing on routes used by children to travel to and from school, said Det. Bill Margolis, a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. As pimps seek to protect their turf, prostitution has generated more violent crimes, he said.

"If this kind of activity was occurring in other parts of the city, people would be in an uproar," he said. "They wouldn't stand for it. But this has plagued this neighborhood for years."

Delgadillo now relies on 36 separate injunctions to limit gang activity in neighborhoods stretching from Wilmington to the San Fernando Valley. But the Figueroa proposal, which was filed in court Friday, represents the first effort by the city to use such a tactic to target the illegal sex trade.

If approved, the injunction would cover a stretch of Figueroa bounded by Vernon Avenue on the north and El Segundo Boulevard on the south. Pimps named in the injunction would not be allowed within 100 yards of Figueroa at any time, said Deputy City Atty. Daniel Whitley.

Prostitutes listed in the injunction would be permitted to cross Figueroa at only two intersections, Manchester and Slauson avenues -- and not on foot, he said. "They can cross in a motorized vehicle without stopping," Whitley said.

The 36 women named in the court filing have been convicted of prostitution a total of 127 times on Figueroa in the last two years, Whitley said. One offender, LaQuiesha Gibson, has been convicted on such charges 13 times, according to the injunction.

Gibson, 21, is identified as having 11 aliases, including "Victory Story" and "BB." Four of the five convicted pimps named in the injunction are affiliated with street gangs, the proposed injunction says.

Prostitution has been a problem for decades on Figueroa, where many of the sex workers are runaways or crack cocaine addicts, police said. Officers have picked up offenders as young as 10, Margolis said.

"These girls are abused sexually, physically and mentally by these pimps," he said.

Prostitution has spurred other crimes and made life on the neighboring residential streets viscerally unpleasant, police and politicians said.

Retiree Joseph West, 72, said he hosed off the sidewalk in front his home on 97th Street every day, in part because of the johns who throw their condoms on the streets and sidewalks. Last week, West said, he chased a prostitute off his property after seeing her urinate in his driveway.

"You can see them in the daytime, you can see them at night," he added.

Delgadillo also said Monday that he would create a diversion program to help first-time prostitution offenders obtain counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes part of the Figueroa corridor, said she wanted such a program to help prostitutes get off drugs, deal with abuse and find other work.

"Without that, they'll just move from Figueroa to the next street," she said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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