Rub, Tug, Repeat

When vice cops in Boca Raton suspected that a lotions and cosmetics store named La Place was really a massage parlor providing sexual acts, they dove right into a messy investigation. During more than a year of surveillance, police searched Dumpsters and garbage cans, coming up with used condoms, gooey baby wipes, and wadded-up paper towels. In late June, they raided La Place and arrested the owner and his employees on solicitation charges.

Using video surveillance, recording license plates, and recovering torn-up credit card receipts found at the business, Boca police also compiled a list of 42 customers they determined had used La Place's services for more than innocent rubdowns.

The list of suspects was turned over to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office as well as to WPEC-News 12, a CBS station broadcasting in Palm Beach County. On its website, News 12 published 25 of what it called "the names and birthdays of the men arrested so far."

The only problem being, that wasn't quite true. Only five people had been arrested by police when Channel 12's story broke on June 20, La Place owner Norman Pyecha and four female employees: Elizabeth Bedregal, Jessica Beleno, Sari Anne Johnson, and Carmen Zapata. Of the five, only Pyecha's name appeared in News 12's piece.

And now, an attorney who has offered his services to the johns named in the operation — and has been hired by three — says the premature release of names may actually, paradoxically, help save his clients embarrassment.

For some of the bigger names on the list, of course, local media attention has already been substantial. There's James Batmasian, for example, the well-connected Boca Raton-based developer. There's also Scott King, owner of Miami-based King's Jewelry and winner of the National Republican Congressional Committee Leadership Award. A victim of mistaken identity, King told the press.

Prominent attorney Steven Wallace, explaining the presence of his name on the list, told the Palm Beach Post that his wallet had been stolen six months ago.

Similarly, Jason Ruppert, the 36-year-old scam artist who bilked investors out of millions in a fake radio-station scheme and spent a year in prison, told the paper he'd been out of town for weeks. "Can't be me," he explained. His recent absence, however, doesn't explain much. The police investigation into La Place began in June 2005.



Despite the press coverage, none of the men has been arrested. Last week, prosecutors finally got around to charging all 42 with soliciting.

Christian Boswell, president of bfw Advertising, a prestigious Boca Raton firm, tells New Times he hasn't been served a court summons. But just showing up on the list, he says, has been a nightmare. "Obviously, it's a very unpleasant thing I wish had never happened," he says.

Jonathan Blecher, a Miami attorney who specializes in representing dabblers in the escort world, says the publication of the list allowed him to intervene on behalf of some of the men named, asking that legal mailings go through his office rather than to the men's homes.

Being named in a television story is embarrassing, he points out, but it can be worse when a court summons shows up in the mailbox and the wife happens to see it.



Blecher concedes, though, that his plan isn't without pitfalls. "I've advised [my clients] that there is a possibility they could still be served."

Blecher also demanded a retraction from News 12 (the station declined) and, perhaps more to the point, announced that he'd done so on "The IndiBoard," a local chatroom at independentgirls.com, a website where South Florida's legion "hobbyists" discuss their interactions with "providers." Blecher's a regular visitor to the site (but not a "hobbyist" himself, he insists), which helped him find work from the three johns who have hired him.

And police documents show that the IndiBoard was also invaluable to police investigating La Place. "The independentgirls.com website, in light of my experience and training, has proven to be a reliable source of information with regards to illegal adult massage parlors," the arresting officer said in his report.

In addition to rifling through trash, cops found trolling the IndiBoard an easy place to collect data on massage parlors. That phase of the operation was this simple: Go to independentgirls.com, locate the forum called "Sensual Body Rubs, Discussion and Review," and read the comments about the great times available at La Place in Boca Raton.

On the board, a gentleman known as JBLAKEMCD raved about getting a blowjob for $60 from a petite Asian woman. So that no one could possibly confuse his review with illegal activity, JBLAKEMCD cleverly described his entire visit to La Place in Boca Raton as nothing more than "a dream."

Another less-than-savvy hobbyist, BOSOX, penned an enthusiastic review about the full-service treatment he enjoyed at La Place for $200. Even as smarter posters warned that "LE" (law enforcement) also trolled the boards, the raves kept coming.

After the bust, many posters on the IndiBoard sounded amazed that police had devoted so much time and resources to busting a "rub-and-tug joint."

"Why is this thing still illegal?" wondered one disillusioned hobbyist.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton