Once Flourishing Prostitution Trade Now Losing Foothold As County Urbanizes

The Chino City Council is scheduled to consider an urgency ordinance next Tuesday that will impose a 45-day moratorium on permits or licenses for massage parlors.
The city’s action follows a series of recent events which brought to the forefront of public awareness the now nearly-half century long tradition of massage establishments in San Bernardino County serving as fronts for prostitution operations.
At least since the 1970s, a large number of massage parlors have proliferated in and around Ontario/Montclair/Chino, particularly in the unincorporated county land surrounding, between and adjoining those cities. The illicit prostitution trade was able to flourish in some measure with the indulgence and under the protection of the sheriff’s department, as several successive sheriffs and operators of houses of ill repute throughout the far flung county had worked out a modus vivendi, which included bribes, payoffs, graft, political support and other arrangements of accommodation. Vestiges of that more open era yet survive, as the bordellos that are thinly veiled as massage parlors along the span of Mission Boulevard in the unincorporated county area bordering Ontario and Montclair north of Chino attest.
In recent years, two factors have drawn back the curtain on the seamy sex trade in that particular location. The first is the rise of the internet and websites and blogs which pointedly reference the availability of sex for sale, providing in some cases exacting specificity as to services rendered and locale. The second is the relatively recent significant rise in the number of Asians operating such establishments and the culturally-based misconstruction of the protocol that attends the transaction of the prostitution trade in this neck of the woods by many of these new practitioners, as well as their insensitivity to political and jurisdictional nuance.
A first manifestation of this new reality loomed into view roughly a decade ago when massage parlor operators set up their operations, not in the unincorporated county districts distant from the county seat where the lax enforcement activity of the sheriff’s department and the county code enforcement division would allow them to operate in the shadows, but rather in the business districts of incorporated municipalities, which are subject to the more concentrated and focused scrutiny of local officials and the enforcement activity of police departments rather than the sheriff’s department. In such locales, the activity could not remain unremarked for long.
In September 2013, Chino police received word that a prostitution ring was operating out of a massage parlor, Nana’s Massage, at 5240 Philadelphia Street. Officers then cross-referenced Nana’s Massage with information available on an adult erotic massage parlor webpage, finding several listings.
Detectives obtained and served a search warrant at the massage parlor, arresting Mie Ja Sim, 61, on suspicion of aiding and abetting prostitution, Xochitl Garduno, 25, of Moreno Valley, on suspicion of engaging in prostitution, and Tina King, 30, of Diamond Bar, on suspicion of pimping and pandering, and obtaining what they said was evidence associated with pimping, prostitution and maintaining a place of prostitution. King was also identified as Ting Kang.
The district attorney filed no charges against King/Kang, but did prosecute Garduno and Sim. On April 3, 2014, Garduno entered a guilty plea to a PC M647, disorderly conduct. On July 3, 2014 Mie Ja Sim entered a no contest plea to PC 653.23, supervising or assisting someone who engages in prostitution.
More than four months later, on November 19, 2014, Rui Liu was issued a business license for Yu Lan Ge Massage, located at 11756 Central Avenue #C. On May 28, 2015, officers with the Chino Police Department began investigating Yu Lan Ge Massage for offering illegal sexual services, and observed reviews of Yu Lan Ge Massage and advertisements for Yu Lan Ge Massage on websites related to sexual services.
Officers Chris Carrino and Toby Reveles staked out Yu Lan Ge, observing a male customer leave the business, also known as Serenity Massage. They used a minor traffic violation as a pretext to pull him over and asked about his visit to Yu Lan Ge. The driver claimed that he had been offered, but turned down, a sexual encounter with an Asian woman named Lulu, described as around 40 years old and wearing a pink dress.
A search warrant was obtained. Reveles then arranged to maintain constant audio contact with Carrino by means of a hidden cell phone and, wearing civilian clothes, entered the massage parlor. There he encountered the woman described as Lulu, whose real name is Xiang Lan Hu, identifiable from her pink dress.
He paid $40 for an hour massage, during which he disrobed and was draped in a towel. The massage included ministrations to his lower abdomen, Reveles told the city council on September 1. At the September 1 council meeting, Reveles told the council that toward the end of the hour-long massage session, Hu offered him sexual services. Reveles acceded to the offer, negotiating a fee of $120. Upon making payment, Reveles utilized a pre-arranged codeword and Carrino and other officers then entered the premises, arrested Hu and served the search warrant.
More than a month-and-a-half later, on July 22, the city revoked Liu’s license to operate Yu Lan Ge. On July 27, she appealed the city’s action, triggering the September 1 hearing before the city council.
At that September 1 meeting, Carrino, who had listened to all of the exchanges between Reveles and Hu during the massage session on May 29, told the council, “The female… Lulu solicited him for sexual acts” and that “Lulu wore a pink dress.” Furthermore, according to Carrino, “Miss Hu gave half her proceeds to Miss Liu.”
While Hu at the time of her arrest said through an interpreter that she had been working for Liu for just four weeks at the time of her encounter with Reveles and that Liu had advertised her on a prostitution website, at the September 1 council meeting Liu disputed that, claiming that as owner of Yu Lan Ge/Serenity Massage she merely leased space to Hu. Liu said she did not perform massages at the
business and stated she sold the business to Xiang Lan Hu in March.
Based upon the account provided by officers Reveles and Carrino, however, the council rejected Liu’s appeal.
“The illegal activity at Yu Massage served as a sufficient basis for revocation of Ms. Liu’s business license for Yu Massage under Chino Municipal Code section 5.24.060(B)” the council said in a resolution.
A month after the undercover operation at Yu Lan Ge in Chino that led to its closure, an operation carried out by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in Rancho Cucamonga led to the shuttering of three massage parlors in that city and the arrest of 11 people believed to be involved in the prostitution trade.
The department executed precisely timed raids that entailed serving three search warrants simultaneously in conjunction with six compliance checks at the Haven Therapy, 10062 Foothill Blvd.; 5 Star Massage, 6652 Carnelian St.; Sun’s Acupuncture and Massage, 8865 Foothill Blvd.; Rancho Health Center, 9619 Foothill Blvd.; Happy Massage, 9223 Archibald Ave., #D; and the Royal Spa, 9090 Milliken Ave., #130 on June 4.
In the course of those operations, a Chong Lee, 72 of Los Angeles, was arrested on suspicion of pimping and Shun Pomerantz, 58 of Los Angeles; Yan Chen, 40 of West Covina; Ying Liu, 49 of Baldwin Park; Jennifer Velasco, 27 of Huntington Park; Sandra Martinez, 41 of Downey; Lluvia Quesada, 31 of Los Angeles; Fang He, 31 of Rosemead; Yamin Yang, of El Monte; Yuk Fong Kwan, 50 of San Gabriel; and Wenjun Shan, 52 of West Covina, were arrested on suspicion of prostitution.
Meanwhile, Chino’s pending emergency ordinance banning the licensing of any massage parlors for the next-month-and-a-half signals that the lax attitude and regulations that have allowed prostitution activity to persist in such establishments are at the very least under question and greater scrutiny and that the licensing of legitimate massage businesses and prohibitions on illegitimate ones that will make the flesh trade a more problematic one for its practitioners are forthcoming.

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