GLENDALE — The ongoing recession is attracting more out-of-town prostitutes to Glendale and Burbank, which reportedly produce higher-paying clients in safer environments, authorities said.
The trend is even hitting high-priced hotels, like the Hilton Glendale, which have been the target of several recent prostitution stings. Four women were arrested on prostitution charges in an undercover sting at the Hilton in March.
Women have come from as far away as Michigan, said Glendale Police Sgt. Scott Johnstone.
Despite Glendale’s reputation for higher-paying clients, prostitutes are earning $200 to $250 for sex, which is nearly $100 less than what they would have made before the recession, Det. Matthew Prokosch said.
“Customers aren’t really willing to pay anymore because of the economy,” he said.
In talking to alleged prostitutes, Prokosch learned that the highest amount a John — a person who pays for sex — has paid for sex since the economic downturn was $250.
Marie Trudell, a 25-year-old who was arrested May 15 on prostitution charges, told undercover detectives that she traveled from Michigan to California because she heard she could make significantly more money, Prokosch said.
Oregon native Jolene Kent, 20, has been a sex worker since February and has been traveling to Glendale to make money, Prokosch said. She set up a hotel room in the 100 block of Colorado Street, where she was arrested May 22 on suspicion of prostitution, Prokosch said.
Weirng Zhang, 46, came from China to the United States and opened a cabinet-making business, but later had to close it because she wasn’t making a profit, Prokosch said.
Zhang, a Monterey Park resident, didn’t have any money, so she started working at a massage parlor and made a transition into prostitution, he said.
She told Prokosch that prostitution was the “only thing she knew how to do.”
Zhang was arrested May 22 on suspicion of soliciting sex acts to an undercover detective at a motel on the 200 block of West Colorado Street, he said.
“Definitely, the economy has had a great impact on people who are in the sex industry,” said Norma Jean Almodovar, a prostitution rights activist and former call girl.
Prostitution is based on having clients, she said. And if money is tight, she said, call girls will likely have fewer clients.
Almodovar is executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, which also goes by C.O.Y.O.T.E.. She used to be a Los Angeles Police Department traffic officer, but left in 1982 to be a Beverly Hills call girl.
Almodovar has since become an advocate for sex workers and the legalization of prostitution.
“It’s an awareness issue,” she said.
If prostitution were legal, Almodovar said, there would be fewer assaults and less abuse on sex workers.
Women who have solicited from hotels and their cities of residence had been increasing more than a year ago, but as the Police Department’s vice detail dug in with investigations and undercover stings, those incidents have become more rare, Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.
“We had, unfortunately, victims of robbery and assault,” he said.
Sixty-three women have been arrested in Glendale since July 2007 on prostitution crimes, and many were also charged with possessing narcotics or had outstanding warrants.
Prostitution is often assumed to be a victimless crime, but Lorenz said violent assaults can often result from it.
Given all the other crime that can stem from prostitution, the recent trend highlights the need for continued vigilance, especially as prostitutes begin to tap hotels throughout the city, he added.
“We need to stay on top of it,” he said.
Some sex workers now bring bodyguards with them.
Maria Zavala, 25, of San Diego, reportedly worked for an escort service that set her up in a hotel room near the Glendale (2) Freeway, Prokosch said. A bodyguard stood outside the room, and she gave him money that she received from her clients, he said. Zavala had typically gone to a client’s home to perform sex acts, but since the escort service wasn’t getting many calls, they set her up in a room, Prokosch said.
Undercover detectives arrested Zavala and her bodyguard last Tuesday, he said.
Lin Sun, 29, of Eagle Rock was arrested Thursday at a hotel near the Ventura (134) Freeway on suspicion of offering sex acts to an undercover officer, Prokosch said.
She told detectives she averaged about three customers per day, and performed a single sex act and gave massages, he said. She charged $100 for the act and massage.
Prostitution is not limited to women. Male sex workers are also finding it hard to make it in the down economy, police said.
Shawn Hoisington, 39, was soliciting sex from his apartment Thursday on Maryland Avenue through transgender advertisements in women’s clothing, Prokosch said.
“She has been advertising a lot on Craigslist,” Prokosch added.
VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.