The next thing we know, an undercover officer wearing a red hat is at the entrance of the massage parlor. We drive down the street toward York Boulevard and park near the parlor. Suddenly, the place is swarming with undercover officers, many of them wearing dark-blue jackets with the word “POLICE” inscribed in white letters on the back.
I see the African American officer in the throng. Our eyes meet and he walks toward me—the only non-LAPD person in the group. “It was 50 bucks for a hand job,” he tells me, adding: “She said she had no condoms today.” He explains that he had asked the masseuse for sex, but she offered to masturbate him instead for $50, ostensibly because there were no condoms at hand.
I see an officer escorting a young woman with brown hair out of the massage parlor. Her wrists are handcuffed behind her back and she’s sobbing. A female undercover officer explains that the woman, who was the only masseuse at the parlor at the time, has been arrested for a “prostitution act” under 647-B of the U.S. penal code. She is led to a dark-colored SUV and driven away by an undercover officer. (See the first of the accompanying videos for a glimpse of the woman being driven away.)
Our next destination is a massage parlor in Eagle Rock that the LAPD raided in recent weeks. I’m told that a team of undercover officers will conduct another permit check to ascertain whether or not a pervious warning to have permits in order went unheeded. Called Foot Bath Health Spa, the massage parlor is located on 4742 Eagle Rock Blvd., across the street from , a medical marijuana dispensary that was robbed by two armed men in March.
When Priest, Gillanni and I get there—after a detour to a Starbucks near the York/Eagle Rock Boulevard intersection—undercover officers are questioning three young women. Some half-a-dozen people, evidently staff and customers at Eagle Rock Herbal Collective, are gawking at the scene outside the massage parlor. I am told that all three of the women being questioned don’t have the proper permits to give a massage or run a massage parlor.
The parlor has all the signs of a fly-by-night business, Priests tells me. The first sign? There are no proper massage tables, says Priest, pointing to wooden contraptions that look like they cost a tiny fraction of the price of professional massage table made of metal.
There appear to be plenty of other tell-tale signs. “A legitimate place would have a lot of women going to it,” explains Priest. “It will have real flowers”—he points to a set of plastic flowers displayed in one of the massage rooms—“and it won’t be run-down, warm and stinky.” He adds: “If you were a woman and came to a place like this, you would say, ‘I don’t want to come into a place like this.’”
I notice that two of the three women being questioned are wearing skimpy skirts—and the third, who has the figure of a ballerina, is dressed in a pair of white, skin-tight pants made from the flimsiest cotton. “Revealing clothing is something you won’t find in a reputable place,” says Priest. “You’ll find it in a place where they’re offering sex.”
Curiously, there’s a laundry room in the massage parlor. (See the second video.) “You have a pair of panties hanging here,” says Priest, pointing to two pieces of underwear suspended from a hanger and evidently left to dry. “This is not legit—it means that either they [the three women] are living here, which they’re not supposed to, or they have to wash their clothes because [allegedly] there’s sex going on here.”
Every once in a while, adds Priest, undercover officers stumble upon masseuses who are recent immigrants and who appear to be working off a debt owed to someone who helped bring them to the United States. “There are bits and pieces of that also going on,” says Priest, “but it’s hard to tell unless you investigate deeper.”
In a corner of the laundry room is a waist-high wooden table that has a shallow well with a thick rubber mattress draped around the top. I ask Priest if it’s meant for a body scrub and he shakes his head. “I wouldn’t come here for a body scrub,” he says, “but if you lathered me up, we might be in business.” He adds: “There’s no pumice stone—just a lubricant [allegedly] used for masturbation.”
All the three women at this massage parlor were arrested and served citations for lacking massage permits. One of the women was released because this was the first time she had been cited. The other two had been cited before, Gillanni says, and will be taken to jail.
The illegality of many massage parlors in a citywide problem, says . "I am pleased that the LAPD's concerted efforts in Eagle Rock and the surrounding communities have resulted in numerous arrests, including several on Thursday.” Huizar said the he is working on a plan, along with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, the LAPD and several city departments, including Building and Safety, to “implement legislation that can be used to deal with illegal massage parlors throughout the City."