Merced prostitution crackdown reveals other problems

MERCED, Calif.

The Merced police chief believes prostitution breeds other problems. He's now focusing on a part of town that after dark is buzzing with prostitutes and drug dealers. This has also led to a spike in assaults and robberies.

Sontaya asked, "Did you know prostitution was going on here?"

Motel owner replied, "Nothing, nothing right now."

The Siesta Motel owner says his property has been cleaned up and the prostitutes are gone. Even though he says he's constantly asking females who check in whether they are prostitutes, he can only police his motel so much. But, Merced police say it's clear what's been going on here and next door at the Gateway Motel. And it's become more than just selling sex. Last month, in room 117 officers say shots were fired and one person was hit during a prostitution deal.

Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade said, "The shooting took place when an alleged prostitute could not make change for the gang member."

Blocks away at the Sunflower Spa on 18th Street, officers say a massage parlor was giving out more than back rubs. Nearby business owners says it was obvious this was no normal spa. They were open around the clock and the workers opened the door in lingerie.

"We would see all different kinds of company trucks and it was nothing but guys always coming in at their lunch hour to come on in and visit them for about an hour and leave."

Cuc Kim Nguyen and Thuy Tran were arrested for prostitution after undercover officers saw firsthand why the business was booming.

Lt. Tom Trinidad said, "Of course during the course of the massage they would proposition their customers for additional services for a price."

These are the faces of the two dozen men and women arrested for trying to solicit a prostitute. Four women were also arrested for offering sex on an internet website. The district attorney says there's one big reason to pass up these offers.

"If you are engaged in this type of activity, not only as a prostitute or a patron of a prostitute your very likely going to end up on the front page of the paper and have some explaining to do when you get home to the misses or whoever you might be living with," said Larry Morse.

Officers say they intend to continue these stings and also help prostitutes choose other jobs. But, it's difficult with the steady business and pimps also playing a big part.

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