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After receiving complaints from neighboring businesses, residents and some disgruntled customers during the past year, undercover police officers went to five local massage parlors on Oct. 15 and Friday to find out if they were soliciting customers for sex. The officers were solicited for sex at three of them: Pine Tree Massage, at 151 Lynch Creek Drive; Moon Light Massage, at 136 Howard St.; and at a residence on the 100 block of Second Street, said Lt. Tim Lyons.

Two Los Angeles residents were nabbed at Moon Light Massage: Mi R. Downing, 43, for residing in a house of prostitution, and Son C. Cho, 52, for solicitation of prostitution.

Arrested at Pine Tree Massage were Susan H. Song, 53, of American Canyon, for residing in a house of prostitution; Sun H. Jung, 42 of Fremont, for residing in a house of prostitution; and Myong S. Moravec, 52, of Sunnyvale, for solicitation of prostitution.

Search warrants were served at the time of the arrests to obtain additional evidence. This enabled officers to obtain detailed customer lists, phone numbers and payment information, Lyons said.

All of the suspects were arrested, booked and released on a citation to appear in court. The police department's code-enforcement officer will be following up on local ordinance violations, and will be contacting property owners, Lyons said.

"The city is experiencing an increase in massage businesses conducting illegal activity," he added. "Three years ago, the department was aware of just one business conducting prostitution, (but) today there are at least seven that the department is investigating."

The sting represents another step in the police department's efforts to actively address a rise in prostitution.

"The Internet has made it easier for prostitutes and their clients to connect, and prostitution often leads to other crimes, such as robberies," said Lt. Mike Cook. "So, as soon as we see such problems starting to grow, we address them."

Since 2008, 26 people have been arrested on prostitution-related crimes in 13 different incidents in Petaluma, compared with just five arrests in five incidents during the preceding three years. During the past two years, only one juvenile, a 14-year-old girl, has been involved. In Santa Rosa, on the other hand, runaway youth frequently have become victims of human sex trafficking.

"Most of the women working on Santa Rosa Avenue — about 55 percent — started in human trafficking," said Bobbi Turner, crisis-intervention manager with United Against Sexual Assault in Sonoma County, in an interview with the Press Democrat.

Last year, the increase in prostitution triggered a sting and online surveillance by the Petaluma Police Department. Eleven people, from six different cities, were arrested on May 1, 2008 at a local motel. None of the people were juveniles. The sting was done because there was a growing trend in reported prostitution incidents at motels on the north end of Petaluma.

This year, police have responded to five reported prostitution incidents. After seeing an advertisement for prostitution services on the Internet, on Feb. 18 Petaluma police arrested a 21-year-old Concord woman at a motel on the north side of Petaluma. The following day, police arrested a 27-year-old Oakland woman who had solicited services online.

Police also accessed Internet ads for prostitution to nab a 44-year-old Santa Rosa woman at a motel on March 11 and a 26-year-old Petaluma woman at an apartment on the 100 block of First Street on April 9.

The amounts of money that were to be paid for prostitution services in these incidents generally were from $100 to $200, Cook said.

Arresting pimps and clients typically is more difficult than arresting prostitutes. Pimps often do not come to the locations, and prostitutes commonly are arrested before clients arrive.

But on Sept. 4, three people were arrested for an alleged prostitution incident at a Petaluma motel. An officer stopped a vehicle that was leaving America's Best Value Suites, at 5300 Old Redwood Highway, at around 11 p.m. because the driver made an illegal left turn. The driver had trouble producing identification, and so did a 14-year-old girl who was with him.

The officer noticed that the girl was underage, and was inappropriately dressed. He eventually established that the girl was a runaway, and had an outstanding warrant for her arrest. She told the officer that she had met a man at the motel for prostitution. The driver was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and police subsequently were able to track down the 31-year-old Emeryville resident who had come to meet the prostitute.

Human trafficking also has been reported in domestic, agricultural and other types of work in the county. At the request of several local and state agencies, Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua proclaimed Jan. 11, 2009 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Also, the North Bay Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes Detective Sgt. Tara Salizzoni of the Petaluma Police Department, was created in 2008.

"The problem that I'm seeing most is underage girls being exploited," said Joan Risse, the county's chief deputy district attorney, as well as a member of the task force, which plans to present the results of its findings in July.

Besides prostitution, no other types of human trafficking recently have been reported in Petaluma, Cook said.

"We haven't had a report of, or done an investigation of, any other types of servitude cases," he said.

But Risse says that given the types of work being done in Petaluma, including considerable agricultural work, it is likely that other types of human trafficking are taking place.

"I'm not personally aware of them, but it's one of those things that, if you look for it, you'll find it," she said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)