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Bruce McFarland: Is this Massage-gate, right here in Santa Clarita?

SCV Voices

Posted: April 3, 2010 10:56 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Is Massage-gate a reality in Santa Clarita? I'll tell you some facts, and I'll tell you what I think.

A Dec. 16, 2009, article in The Signal reported that, during a Sheriff's Department sweep focused on code enforcement and licensing violations: "State and local officials said they found violations including improper cleaning methods, excessive hours for workers and an employee working on a tourist visa from China."

The story continued: "(At) several of the massage parlors, (there) appeared to be unfair working conditions where the employees would work 12 hours a day, seven days a week," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. A.J. Rotella. "Several of them had questionable sanitary conditions."

At the March 9 City Council meeting, City  Council candidate TimBen Boydston asked the council to provide more funding to the Sheriff's Department to stem rising crime rates, and to address the "explosion of numbers of massage parlors in Santa Clarita, which as you know, are many times a front for prostitution and other illegal activities."

City Manager Ken Pulskamp responded with a typical Pulskamp-ery answer, stating that the sergeant in charge of that activity had gone to all of the massage parlors in the city and shut down the ones that didn't have the proper licensing.

Recently, I received the infamous news release/letter that was sent out to various media outlets and churches. The unidentified author made a number of very compelling arguments about the dangerous rise in massage parlors.

The release mentioned the well-known connection between massage parlors and criminal activities, such as prostitution, money laundering, human trafficking and sexual slavery, as well as drug use and sales.

The sender also sent me a list of 65 massage parlor addresses within the city limits. I removed some duplicates I observed and found there were 41 unique addresses.

Several blogs picked up the original news release, as well as the KHTS Web site, and on March 17, The Signal published a front-page article titled, "Sheriff's Department says letter massages facts," which seemingly discredited the letter and outlined several anti-massage parlor activities locally.

Unfortunately, the story raised more questions than it answered.

On March 18, TV Channel 11 News came out to cover the story. They interviewed Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar, Boydston and sheriff's Lt. Brenda Cambra. The piece ran on the 10 p.m. news and was called "Are there too many massage parlors in Santa Clarita?"

Kellar said, "There (are) apparently some issues having to do with massage parlors in Santa Clarita." Cambra said, "We made at least 12 arrests for prostitution since 2008."

The Channel 11 reporter announced that "they are planning to talk about it on Tuesday night," referring to a scheduled City Council meeting.

But the issue was not on the agenda, and the only people who talked about it were the people who signed up to speak during the public participation section of the meeting.

On March 23, The Signal published a column by newly appointed Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Capt. Paul Becker outlining the 2008 sweep of local massage parlors and promising a commitment to continue policing those businesses. It also committed to supporting local businesses during the recession.

Here's what I think happened. Early in 2008, the City Council, city manager and the Sheriff's Department became aware of the increase in massage parlors in the city, but because of their motto, "Never say anything bad about Santa Clarita," they decided to do a low-profile crime sweep to diminish and deter criminal activities at massage parlors.

They had some success annoying the massage-shop owners with code violations and apparently even made 12 arrests for prostitution.

They were even pretty successful at keeping the illegal massage activities out of the news until the Dec. 16, 2009, Signal story came out. That's when I believe the story gets very sticky.

Back in December 2009, people in Santa Clarita were talking about who would be running for City Council.
Three incumbents were up for re-election, and I believe someone in power determined that news reports on arrests for prostitution and human trafficking would make the city look very bad, so somehow, enforcement ceased.

The only reason facts and figures defending the city's actions are coming out now is because someone started asking questions, got mad and went on a mission to let the public know the truth. Or at least the truth as the anonymous author saw it.

Here are some questions I'd like answered:

If our sheriff's officials have been conducting such an impressive task force investigation, how come they've only made 12 arrests? When were those arrests? Were there convictions?

When did the investigations start? How many sworn officers were involved?

How many hours were spent each week, for every week from 2008 to today, by sworn officers, investigating and pursuing arrests?

If all the local massage parlors are only conducting legal activities, why are some located near bars and open until 2 a.m.?

If the sheriff's officials have been conducting such a great investigation, how come it takes a public outcry to hear about it publicly?
Were the arrests made public at the time they happened? What happened to the Chinese tourist visa masseuse? Are the shop owners who had women working 12-hour days, seven days a week, still in business in Santa Clarita?

If you think the town needs cleaning up, let your voices be heard at City Hall.

Bruce McFarland is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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