Sheriff's investigators have been busy in the last month trying to stop the proliferation of massage parlors, resulting in more than a few places closing their doors.
"In the last few years, the City has seen an increase in the number of massage parlors opening up in the city limits. Currently we believe there are approximately 40 of these locations that exist," said Sgt. A.J. Rotella, who heads the Santa Clarita Valley station's Business Relations Unit.
"There is a requirement for them to not only have massage parlor license, but also have some type of standards at their operation," Rotella said. "Each one of their massage technicians has to be licensed, meaning they have to be trained and have a background check."
In mid-November, a multi-agency team of state, county and city officials conducted a sweep of massage parlors. The deputies were accompanied by personnel from the City's code enforcement and building and safety departments.
During the two-day operation, seven misdemeanor arrests were made for licensing violations, 14 state violations were found, $155,000 in state fines were levied, five locations were ordered by the state to close, four locations were ordered by Sheriff's to close for lack of a license, 13 owners were ordered to appear in state investigators' offices for compliance audits, and City inspectors handed out 10 orders to comply with building code violations.
"We did a compliance check with the Sheriff's Department morals unit, which is sort of our vice team, and some state agencies to make sure they're operating properly. We check to make sure that not only are they licensed, but that they're paying their employees properly, that they pay workers compensation and other insurance that are part of their requirements. As part of that operation we did 24 locations and found 17 of them out of compliance."
Rotella did not get specific with the names of the shuttered massage parlors, but said that many are waiting for processing or to get necessary paperwork completed.
He added that the illegal activities included prostitution in some establishments.
"We have had arrests made for prostitution activity, but I can't say which ones. In times when there are more of these around, the common denominator was that business is slow and prices are dropping dramatically. Some places were charging $20 for a one-hour massage. There's a potential that lies out there during tougher economic times that makes people do things they normally wouldn't do. They're trying to get clients and make ends meet."
Day spas were not included in the compliance sweeps because their services and clientele are different.
The sweeps were prompted by a request from the Santa Clarita City Council, who are responding to public requests.
"We're trying to address a problem brought up by community members and brought to council," he said. "They wanted us to look into what's going on with the number of massage parlors. We found a lot of massage parlors in shopping centers that aren't even licensed."
Along with the numerous other violations, the investigators found evidence of human trafficking and businesses not paying a living wage.
"Some of the people we found work there 12 hours a day, seven days a week," Rotella said. "In some, we found women who were actually living inside the massage parlors. They had set up apartments there because working had become their entire existence. These are things we have to deal with in Santa Clarita."
In addition, various health and safety violations were discovered, including washing linens used by customers in a mop bucket where there was no running water.
Sgt. Darren Harris said that the City of Santa Clarita and Sheriff's Department are working together to address the issues involving the massage business community and to ensure that each location and their employees are properly licensed and inspected.
Many of the locations ignore state and local orders to close, and reopen soon after.
"We're trying to educate the local landlords about how these types of businesses move around," said Harris.