Two massage parlors in Oildale have been shut down indefinitely and three women arrested after undercover deputies were solicited for sex acts at the businesses Tuesday evening, authorities said.
The arrests are just the first in what are expected to be numerous sting operations targeting illicit massage parlors in an effort to combat prostitution and human trafficking, Public Health and Kern County sheriff's officials said during a press conference Wednesday.
"If you're a legitimate business, you have absolutely nothing to worry about," Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. "If you're not, you certainly do."
Kezhen Zhao, 57, and Jiahong Zhang, 53, were arrested on suspicion of prostitution at Oriental Foot Massage at 1619 N. Chester Ave., according to the Sheriff's Office. Maohua Jiang, 44, was arrested on misdemeanor county ordinance violations at Bonnie Massage at 3704 N. Chester Ave.
It's unknown if human trafficking played a role in the activity going on at the businesses.
There has been a resurgence of illegal activity at massage parlors over the past 12 to 18 months, Youngblood said, and law enforcement is cracking down to force the owners to leavetown. The problem is cyclical, with owners of illicit parlors moving from one place to another after they've been shut down, only to return years later and reopen elsewhere in the county.
In addition to potential human trafficking, the parlors pose a quality of life issue, with the illegal activity keeping people away from legitimate nearby businesses, Youngblood said. Staying on top of the issue is no easy task.
"You close two or three down and more pop up," he said.
Neither parlor shut down Tuesday had a current health permit, according to Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said. Both facilities were issued formal notification to close immediately, and their pending applications for health permits have been denied.
The premises are now prohibited from being operated as a massage business regardless of who owns them, he said.
Chris Vaughn, who runs a barbershop near one of the closed parlors, said he's long noticed suspicious activity occurring there.
Barbershop customers often crack jokes or otherwise comment on the parlor, Vaughn said. It creates a stigma about his own business because it's located nearby.
"I have to explain to people that I'm not involved in illegal activity," he said.
Residents need to alert law enforcement and county agencies to businesses engaged in that type of behavior so they can be closed down, Vaughn said.
Those looking for legitimate massage businesses should check to make sure they have an operating permit from Public Health, Constantine said. Public Health officials check the background and zoning of a business and make sure every employee performing massages is certified as a masseuse.
Anyone who suspects illicit activity at a massage parlor is asked to call Public Health at 321-3000.