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Publication Date: Friday, August 29, 2003

Massage parlors continue to pose prostitution problem Massage parlors continue to pose prostitution problem (August 29, 2003)

Despite the bust of another brothel disguised as a massage parlor in Mountain View two weeks ago, prostitution is a crime that just isn't going away.

By Candice Shih

"They keep popping up all the time," said Javier Alcala, the assistant district attorney who has been tracking houses of prostitution for several years. "There must be some kind of organization."

The last one cops closed, on 626 West Dana St., was known by the city as the Eastern Health Center but by local johns as a massage parlor that sold sexual favors.

"After the masseuse offered an act of prostitution for money, the arrest team came inside and arrested the masseuse," said Mountain View Police Sergeant Derek Sousa.

The officers had been waiting outside. Once inside, they arrested the masseuse, Fengzhen Liu, 40, for prostitution. They also arrested the two other women in the parlor, Bin Zeng, 35, and Wei Qu, 34, for running a house of prostitution. All three women were also charged with performing massages without a license.

Alcala later discovered that the owner of the business, Annie Zhao, had served time for pimping and pandering in San Jose in 1998.

Mountain View has been host to several suspect massage parlors, including the Song Song Health Club (which was next-door to the Voice's 655 W. Evelyn Ave. offices) that was busted last year and a house on Rengstorff Avenue that was discovered by police in April.

Alcala knows of several others and estimates that there are six to 10 total in Mountain View, and another 10 to 15 in Sunnyvale. Now occupying their own genre of prostitution, Asian massage parlors are successful possibly because they seem to have a big supply of women who are willing to work for less money, he said.

In fact, the supply seems to come directly from Asia. Women looking for a way into the U.S. agree to work for a year in exchange for the transportation. "Even if they're doing it willingly, it's economic force," said Alcala. "A lot of the time they stay because that's what they know."
It's not just a victimless crime, he added, because there's tax evasion, a lack of health regulations, illegal immigration, and the possibility that the john and prostitute will be taken advantage of.

Alcala argues that if prostitution were legally sanctioned and regulated, many of its worst byproducts could be weeded out. "If it were up to me personally, I'd say 'legalize the whole thing.' Plus, it'd be out of our hair," he said.

For the police department, investigating suspected brothels is a low priority; it takes a lot of time, especially for officers more concerned with bank robberies.

The background check can be relatively easy, however. Massage parlors often advertise, and Alcala finds them through ads in the San Jose Metro, an alternative weekly newsapaper, and on the Internet.

After reading reviews and checking to see if they have valid licenses to practice massage, the police department then sends a team of officers.

In 20 percent of cases, workers at massage parlors are charged with not having valid massage licenses. In the remaining of situations, police officers go undercover and report if they get solicited.

Although the women are very careful not to get recorded by investigators, said Alcala, sometimes they get caught anyway.

"It's a calculated risk," he said. "The money's very good,"

E-mail Candice Shih at [email protected]

Michael Miller contributed to this repor


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