While college professor Hal Mintz tried in vain to persuade West Hollywood officials not to close the massage parlor he owns, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies armed with search warrants on Tuesday were raiding it and the educator's San Marino home.
Lt. Joe Callanan said sheriff's vice officers seized business records and "a variety of sexually oriented devices" at the massage parlor, situated at 8574 Santa Monica Blvd., across the street from West Hollywood City Hall.
He said the items recovered "clearly indicate that the place is a house of prostitution, not simply a massage parlor."
10 Masseuses, No Arrests
No one was arrested at the establishment, where about 10 masseuses were on duty when sheriff's deputies entered Tuesday night, he said. Callanan said that the professor's wife was the only person at home when deputies arrived there.
Mintz, chairman of the business department at East Los Angeles College, owns 20th-Century Travel Advisers Inc., which does business as Beverly Hills Massage Parlor.
Even as the raids were taking place, the West Hollywood City Council voted 5-0 to deny Mintz's appeal of a July decision by the city's Business License Commission to revoke his operating permit.
May Seek Injunction
Anthony Glassman, an attorney for Mintz, said he plans to seek an injunction, if necessary, to prevent the parlor from being closed Feb. 1, the date a shutdown order is expected to take effect.
According to the Sheriff's Department, at least 10 women have been arrested for sex-related offenses there since 1984.
The arrests were in conjunction with a seven-count list of accusations that Jan Pluim, an attorney for the county, said represented "a common scenario" over the three years that sheriff's vice officers have investigated the massage parlor.
In testimony before the commission, deputies described massage booths located behind triple-locked doors, some equipped with video equipment showing X-rated movies and attended by women in scanty outfits who sought money for sexual favors.
"Any one of the seven counts is sufficient to sustain revocation," Pluim said. "We're talking about a common scenario . . . the same 'tip' system, the same massage rooms, the same X-rated films. Everything is identical."
In a last-minute appeal to the council, Glassman said his client had eliminated the movies from massage booths, had fired managers involved in alleged wrongdoing, and had prohibited his masseuses from accepting "tips."
Glassman portrayed Mintz as the "victim" of several prostitutes whom he said "infiltrated" the business in 1984 and 1985, "despite the best efforts" of Mintz to keep a tight rein on the establishment.
"There is no common thread of illegality here," he said. "What we have are a few incidental acts of improper conduct over a period of 20 years (since the massage parlor has been in business). We're talking about a record that is about as good as you're going to get."
Pluim countered by referring to Mintz as "a chameleon. . . . Mintz will tell you whatever it is he thinks you want to hear," he said.
At the end, council members seemed swayed by such arguments. "My common sense tells me this is clearly a house of prostitution, that it was organized and established as a house of prostitution, and that (Mintz) was aware of this at all times," Councilman John Heilman said.
He called Mintz's assertion that he did not know of any wrongdoing at the massage parlor "wildly implausible."
Callanan said the raids Tuesday "were not particularly timed" to coincide with the professor's appearance before the council.
He said the searches "represent the last chapter in a long investigation aimed at helping the district attorney's office decide whether criminal charges will be filed" against Mintz and several of his associates at the massage parlor.
The officer declined to say what, if anything, was taken from the professor's home.
However, among the several items removed from the massage parlor were bank records, payroll records and "other materials which we believe intimately link Mr. Mintz to the operation of the business as a house of prostitution," he said.
Deputies called a locksmith to remove the contents of a safe at the massage parlor, he said, after employees refused to provide the keys.
Callanan said several masseuses on duty at the time of the raid had previously been arrested for prostitution.
"Several of the officers who were there recognized them immediately as girls they had arrested before," he said.