Wages of Vice

Police find a way to make money by busting massage parlors

By contrast, streetwalkers arrested for prostitution are not allowed to pay fines in exchange for a clean criminal record. Their cases are referred to a different diversion program, one that requires 24 hours of counseling or community service. The program also offers English-as-a-second-language courses, substance abuse programs, and courses in job-seeking skills.

So just how much money is the vice squad making from massage parlor busts, and where is it going?

It's hard to tell. Police officials aren't willing to shed much light on the matter, and that's raising eyebrows among those city officials charged with looking after the public purse.

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1997, the vice unit collected about $77,000 in fees, according to the Police Department's administrative office. But officials from the SFPD's fiscal office, public affairs office, legal division, and administrative office told SF Weekly they don't know how much money has been collected in the 17 months since then.

SF Weekly forwarded a copy of one $250 money order written by a massage worker to the Vice Unit to Harold Guetersloh of the city Controller's Office to see if he could track down where the money was being deposited.

Guetersloh says he called the Police Department's fiscal office, and received a general assurance that the money goes into the city's treasury. But Guetersloh says the Police Department told him it only collected somewhere between $7,200 to $7,500 from massage parlor busts during the 1998 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998.

That number seems strikingly low, given that at least 416 cases were referred to CCDS during the first 10 months of 1998, and anecdotal evidence suggests that each woman pays at least $100 to vice.

In response to SF Weekly's questions, both the city's controller and Treasurer Susan Leal say they are now investigating whether members of the vice squad have properly accounted for money they have collected.

Leal says she was surprised to learn that cashier's checks are being made out directly to the Vice Unit, rather than to the city generally.

Leal and the Controller's Office say they are asking police for assurances that, from now on, the checks will be written to the City and County of San Francisco rather than vice, and will be deposited in a city account.

San Francisco's fiscal watchdogs aren't the only ones rethinking the diversion program since SF Weekly began digging into it. Last week, DA spokesman Shanley said Hallinan has stopped sending massage parlor cases to CCDS, and is instead sending them through the diversion program that handles streetwalkers, the one that actually requires counseling and training.

It is unclear what will happen to the vice squad's money machine now that the DA has switched to a different diversion program.

Cynthia Hammond and Jennifer Nelson are not the real names of the two massage parlor workers quoted in this story.

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