The LAPD has arrested at least nine people in Eagle Rock on suspicion of running massage parlors that lack proper city permits, as well as one arrest on suspicion of alleged prostitution, an official from the office of told the board of the at its monthly meeting last night.
Paul Habib, the public projects and transportation director in Council District 14, said the LAPD conducted some 26 raids over the past two weeks, which are just the beginning of a comprehensive drive to shut down illegal massage parlors in Eagle Rock and elsewhere in the district.
The latest of the nine arrests occurred on Friday, April 1, when LAPD officers raided a massage parlor on Colorado Boulevard and another parlor on Eagle Rock Boulevard, Habib said.
Officers of the LAPD’s vice unit raided W.J. Health Center, located on 1113 Colorado Blvd., Suite A, and arrested one person on charges of prostitution. The facility was also found to be operating without a city permit—for the second time: A prior raid on the same massage parlor late last month revealed that it did not have a proper business permit.
The number of massage parlors in Eagle Rock is roughly estimated to be in the mid-20s, Sergent Yasir Gillanni, who is part of the LAPD Northeast Division’s vice squad, said at yesterday’s neighborhood council meeting. There are an estimated 40 massage parlors in the entire northeast L.A. area, he said.
William Heath, a longtime Eagle Rock resident and principal deputy counsel for the County of Los Angeles, told the board meeting that the prostitution believed to be rampant in the massage parlors may be linked to human trafficking.
Eagle Rock, Heath said, is particularly fertile ground for so-called erotic massage parlors because building codes in the neighborhood have never been adequately enforced, allowing non-permitted residential quarters to be constructed behind retail stores. Based on evidence elsewhere in the country, prostitutes—many of them underage girls trafficked from overseas—are typically housed in living quarters adjoining massage parlors, Heath said.
Among the other reasons why District 14 in general and Eagle Rock in particular appear to be a favored spot for massage parlors is the failure to involve immigration authorities in any raids on the parlors, Heath said. And the failure to take any substantive action against illegal medical marijuana dispensaries sends the message that “the 14th is wide open territory.”
An undercover officer from the LAPD’s vice squad agreed that human trafficking, particularly from Asia, is common in brothels that pose as massage parlors. “But I want to let you know that Eagle Rock is not a hub for juvenile prostitution,” he told the Neighborhood Council, adding that the western part of the San Fernando Valley and the San Pedro Harbor area have a much higher concentration of juvenile prostitutes.
Erotic massage parlors are a “city-wide problem because they’re popping up everywhere,” Habib said. Although the LAPD is responsible for issuing city permits for the parlors to operate, Habib added, there is also a state permit that allows massage parlors to open shop anywhere in California since a new state law was passed in 2009. (Three massage parlors that the LAPD’s vice squad raided were state-certified, according to Officer Gillanni.)
The existence of two permitting systems has been the source of considerable confusion in enforcing the law, Habib said. And the arrests for prostitution don’t necessarily result in a massage parlor's closing down. “What’s happening is that people are getting arrested, and the next day you drive by and someone else is running the show,” he said.
Shutting down erotic massage parlors is “a top priority,” however, and the LAPD is considering appealing to the owners of buildings not to renew the leases of illegal massage parlors, Habib said. In addition, the Department of Building and Safety is checking the premises where massage parlors are located for any violations of code, such as whether or not the site is being used for the purposes it is meant to be.
“The [LAPD] raids are ongoing, and we want the word to get out,” Habib said. “If people think they are going to get busted here, that’s also a deterrent.”
Here is the full list of massage parlors raided by the LAPD so far:
1. Foot Bath Health Spa, 4742 Eagle Rock Blvd.
2. L.Y. Health Center, 4509 Eagle Rock Blvd.
3. Acupuncture Herbal Medicine, 4448 Eagle Rock Blvd., Suite A (raided twice).
4. W.J. Health Center, 1113 Colorado Blvd., Suite A (raided twice).