Smoke and fire, apparently, in Lafayette as an ongoing investigation into exactly what was happening in those downtown strip mall massage parlors turned up a few surprises.
Chief Eric Christensen called them his "A-ha" moments.
"We learned, first, by simple observation, that all of the customers were men and that, although there was plenty of parking in front, they usually parked in the neighborhoods surrounding the business," the chief wrote in a briefing issued by city staff. "Our suspicions raised, we began stopping customers as they departed the businesses to find out who they were and why they were there. My biggest ah-ha moment came when I learned that, when an officer stopped a customer because there were no license plates on his vehicle, a check of his drivers license revealed that he was a registered sex offender from a city on the other side of the County."
The chief said that ongoing and "snappy" "water cooler" discussions of massage parlors and prostitution here and elsewhere paled when compared to one overriding factor -- the fact that a convicted out-of-town child molester driving a car with no license plates and drawn by the town's massage parlors was found parked in a local neighborhood.
"That's not acceptable," Christensen said.
Christensen further states that his officers began stopping more vehicles and conducting more intensive interviews with customers as they emerged from their massages and, in doing so, "met all varieties of gang members, convicted felons, and other less-than-admirable characters as they frequented our downtown."
The chief dispelled the notion of the parlors as "victimless" enterprises offering services that many have said should be allowed to continue because they cause no appreciable harm.
"Victimless?" he challenged. " No. In fact, the victims are us – the people that live and work in Lafayette and are exposed to the risks these lowlifes bring to town. And that’s before we discuss the conditions for the employees on the other side of the equation, many of whom, when we interviewed them yesterday, could not speak any English."
Investigators are now "following the money," the chief said, tracking credit card transactions, payrolls, bank accounts -- with the goal to "break the backs of these businesses and shut them down for good."