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HOOKERS USE NEW TRICKS PROSTITUTES OPERATING OUT OF SEEMINGLY LEGIT SHOPS.

Byline: Ryan Oliver Staff Writer

The number of San Fernando Valley storefronts operating prostitution-related businesses has jumped 500 percent in the past year, prompting authorities to launch aggressive sting operations to shut them down.

Los Angeles Police Department vice officers say 36 known prostitution operations are open in the Valley, up from just six in 2002. Many of them are identifying themselves as aromatherapy or chiropractic parlors - a departure from the age-old massage parlors, which are regulated by tougher licensing requirements.

``They'll just come up with any kind of scam to have a girl and a guy in a room so they can have sex,'' said Detective Rick McElroy, who heads the Valley's vice squad. ``It's the world's oldest profession evolving into new ways to be undetected by law enforcement.''

McElroy said the lack of any licensing standards for aromatherapy and chiropractic offices ultimately costs the city money.

``The city collects 200 bucks on the business license, and pays $20,000 in investigative costs to shut them down,'' he said. ``That little loophole discovered by some snake-in-the-grass attorney has caused the influx in girls and the number of these locations to increase.''

Police say the operations are increasing also because they supply higher- caliber women than streetwalkers, are more difficult for police to target and they are increasingly being run by the Russian and Korean crime syndicates.

``We've been hitting the streetwalkers so hard, we're driving them back to do in-call services or these massage parlor-like places,'' McElroy said. ``They're very profitable. They don't pay any taxes. It's a cash cow.''

Often, police shut the operations down, but usually within a few days they reopen with a new owner and new women, McElroy said.

For this reason, city prosecutors have recently begun to pressure strip mall owners to evict such tenants.

Michael Pizzuti, a city attorney in the Valley's Neighborhood Prosecution Program, said his office will seek a court order shutting down the properties of owners who do not comply.

``Once there's prostitution arrests, instead of going back and arresting these same women over and over, we go through the strip mall owners and seek a potential abatement act,'' Pizzuti said. ``Most strip mall owners are conscious of what can happen and terminate the lease.''

Closing them down is important because they impact surrounding businesses and spread disease, he said.

One woman who worked in such a business told authorities it was common to allow unprotected sex for an additional price if the customer requested it, he said.

At another location, a children's dental office was located next to an aromatherapy spa, and the dental office repeatedly had people walk in asking where they could get a massage, Pizzuti said.

``You can see how nearby businesses are brought down by these places,'' Pizzuti said.

This past month, Valley vice officers have begun a new tactic to arrest customers as they come into prostitution houses, which involves getting a court order to take the businesses over to run sting operations.

On May 16, Valley detectives raided Victoria's Health chiropractic clinic in the 19300 block of Ventura Boulevard and arrested three women on suspicion of being prostitutes.

They then took over the business and used undercover policewomen to pose as so-called therapists. In all, 11 men allegedly solicited them for sex and were arrested.

``It's no big secret what goes on here,'' said Sgt. Fernando Garcia, who noted it was the 12th time Victoria's Health had been raided, and that prosecutors will seek an abatement order.

``If you ask the surrounding businesses, they all know.''

Garcia said the tactic to go after customers was so successful that his unit will continue doing it.

``Hopefully we can scare them away,'' he said.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Los Angeles police officers monitor surveillance cameras used in the arrest of men seeking sex in a raided massage parlor.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:May 27, 2003
Words:647
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