Vice investigators have broken up a prostitution ring based in a hotel and run by an 18-year-old woman who is accused of pimping for women and girls recruited in Mexico, some as young as 14, police said.
Investigators arrested 11 people, including four juveniles and seven women, Thursday after a citizen alerted police to possible prostitution at the Granada Inn, a comfortable hotel at 2375 W. Lincoln Ave. The arrests were not announced until Tuesday.
According to police, the ring was managed by Cera Rauda Sanchez, 18. It was not known Tuesday if Rauda is also from Mexico or how the women were brought to Orange County from Mexico.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Anderson said Rauda pleaded not guilty Monday to 20 felony counts of pimping and pandering, and will face a preliminary hearing April 22 in Municipal Court in Fullerton.
Six women who police said worked as prostitutes for Rauda pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor counts of living in a house of prostitution, Anderson said. Each defendant was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on three years’ probation.
The juvenile defendants remain in custody, Anderson said.
Police Sgt. R. Sutter said the ring had been operating since December and advertised in Asian- and Spanish-language newspapers. Sutter said the ads promised “a good time at the hotel.”
On Tuesday, residents at the hotel, where rooms are rented daily or by the week, said they had no knowledge of any prostitution but said there had been a steady stream of men visiting the hotel in recent weeks. The hotel is next to a quiet neighborhood of older houses.
Rica Zounatiotias, manager of the adjacent Zonos restaurant, said she noticed that groups of men could often be seen walking into the hotel. “A few minutes later they would walk out and drive away,” she said. “But I had no idea of what was going on inside the hotel.”
Although police said they found six customers in the rooms when officers made the arrests, a spokesman said there was not sufficient evidence to charge them with any crime.
A police report said Rauda kept the women and juveniles in 10 first-floor rooms of the hotel and ran the operation out of Room 125, which was vacant Tuesday. The room is next to a side door that exits to Gilbert Avenue.
Apparently, there were still some male customers who had not heard of the arrests. On Tuesday afternoon, a young Asian man knocked softly on the door of Room 125. When asked whom he was looking for, the man pulled out a pager and said that two friends had paged him and directed him to meet them at the room.
“We meet girls here,” he said sheepishly.
The hotel is owned by Sugandh Inc., according to property tax records. The company’s president, Ravji Patel, a Torrance resident, could not reached for comment late Tuesday.
In the lobby, a sign by the front desk warned guests: “Rules, Rules. No parties. No visitors after 10:30 p.m.” Another sign said the hotel supported the California Narcotics Officers Assn.
Sgt. Sutter said the women were recruited from the Mexican interior to work as prostitutes for three months. At the end of three months, they would be paid between $2,000 and $3,000, Sutter said.
“The exploitation level is just astounding,” he said. "(The ring) makes $3,000 in one day. They can pay all the girls in 10 days and the rest of it is just profit. (The ringleaders) are scum, low-lives.”
It was unclear whether the hotel owner and manager knew of the alleged prostitution activity in the rooms, police said. Rooms that police said were used by the ring are down a hall from the front desk.
Investigators said most of the women knew they were engaging in illegal activity, but the financial lure was too strong to turn down. Police reported finding a letter written by one of the women to family members back home that had not been mailed.
“I’m not proud of what I’m doing but it (money) will make a better life for us,” the woman wrote, according to police.
Sutter said the women were kept at the hotel and rarely ventured out because they did not speak English.
According to Sutter, the women charged $50 for sex and worked from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. He said each room had “a case, not a box, but a case of condoms.”
Police broke up the alleged ring Thursday when an undercover vice officer went to the motel, where he was allegedly shown photographs of several women. After paying $50 and selecting one of the pictures, the investigator was taken to another room where a 17-year-old offered to have sex with him, police said. Police then arrested the 18-year-old madam and the girl, and rounded up the others.
A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Los Angeles said Tuesday that agents will be in Anaheim today to interview the defendants and determine if they are in the United States illegally.
Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this report.