By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A.J. Maddox usually opens the doors of Neptune's Lagoon, his by-the-hour Jacuzzi-rental business in Anaheim, around noon every day to little fanfare. But on April 3, it wasn't early-bird customers who greeted him, but more than 20 code-enforcement officers, officials with California's labor-standards enforcement, and undercover police in tactical uniforms and ski masks.
"The first thing I asked them when they came in was if they have a warrant," Maddox recalls. "They told me they didn't have a warrant and that this was not a criminal investigation. They said they were simply here to support code enforcement."
After that brief introduction, the officials proceeded to ransack the Lagoon. They seized its phones. Four of Maddox's friends who were hanging out in a back storage building were handcuffed and detained after labor standards officers determined—without any proof—they were employees paid under the table. Code enforcement found two small storage rooms built inside the original foundation that were not up to code and demanded he knock them down. Maddox was fined $13,676, and a demolition order the city executed three weeks ago left an awkward hole in his business.
Maddox didn't know it then, but the Anaheim Police Department, Code Enforcement and Labor Standards placed four massage parlors in Anaheim under the same lockdown and sweep that day. At each place, the phalanx of uniformed officers neglected to tell owners why they were disrupting their businesses. It wasn't until later that they said they were looking for victims of human trafficking.
The worst part of it? The destructive show was all for naught. Not one of the business owners was ever charged with a crime. At a hearing before the state Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, officers couldn't offer definitive proof that Maddox illegally employed his friends. Agent Sammy Sima told hearing officer James W. Jackson that Maddox's friends admitted to him that they were employees. Yet when asked for the signed confessions, Sima said he didn't have them because the buddies never signed anything.
"Well, that's not a confession!" Jackson responded, threw out the case against Neptune's Lagoon, and wiped away Maddox's fines, later writing in a decision that Sima "failed to provide sufficient evidence of witnesses to conclude that the . . . individuals found on the premises, on the date of inspection, were in fact employees."
Maddox is now left with a demolished room that must be rebuilt, shaken-up friends and a loss of business due to customer backlash from the raid.
Though he's not surprised the public at large is skeptical of the business, he addresses it without prompting. "I flip the water every day, and if people want me to flip it again before they get in—I will, no problem," he says. "How often do you think they flip the water in community pools? You're much safer coming in here."
It's why Maddox gets visibly angry when talking about the Anaheim PD's allegation of human trafficking. "Look at this place," he continues, gesturing wildly toward the back storage rooms behind the tubs. "Does it look like I've ever had Ukrainian girls locked up in here? Honestly, if I wanted that kind of place, why would I do Jacuzzis? Why would I want to clean that out?"
One of two such establishments left in Southern California, Neptune's has served customers since 1982 from a strip mall off Beach Boulevard and Ball Road, sandwiched between dilapidated motels. It ain't Glen Ivy Hot Springs; people pay $30 per hour to get into 3-foot-deep tubs that wouldn't seem out of place next to your apartment pool. The lobby carpet is the kind of navy blue that doesn't show stains, and the walls are covered in Roman-Greco decorations that match the oddly proportioned Greek statues in the lobby. The rooms, meanwhile, look like a Hunter S. Thompson version of the Madonna Inn. Mismatched tiles decorate the walls and floors, and the tubs sit underneath strange, beaded chandeliers that look like they were hung during the Ford administration.
It used to look worse, according to Maddox, who bought Neptune's Lagoon three years ago and is proud of what he has accomplished. "The walls were this awful blue color with a border painted to look like stones," he describes. "I brought in some new art and the fish tanks. I want it to look nice for my clients."
Although he doesn't skirt the fact that someone could bring a prostitute into Neptune's, "if I see a girl handling money or who looks like she was just pulled in off Beach . . . I can refuse to let her in," he says. "But other than that, I can't question people's reason for being here. The police should be asking the Ritz-Carlton the same question."
He asserts 80 percent of his clients are couples, with the remainder being small groups or singles. Not all encounters are romantic; sometimes, people are healing a back injury or a guy will invite his friends "to listen to Zeppelin and crack open a beer." He adds that many of his clients are cops who enjoy an "alternative" lifestyle.
Maddox can't stop thinking about the ordeal, and he'll rant about it nonstop. More than anything, he blames law enforcement's assumptions coupled with their lack of evidence. "If they had done a proper investigation to obtain a warrant, they would have figured that [the business is legitimate]," Maddox says. "I know what they did. They came in here under the guise of supporting code enforcement so they didn't have to get a warrant."
In an interview with the Weekly, Anaheim PD public-information officer Tim Schmidt claimed Neptune's had long been suspected of sex trafficking and said they conduct multidepartment sweeps on a regular basis. When asked how they are able to conduct a criminal investigation and raid a business without a warrant, he didn't offer a comment. When asked for examples of Neptune's engaging in sex trafficking, he skipped the question. The departments of code enforcement and labor standards didn't return calls or emails seeking comment.
Meanwhile, Maddox will continue on. "The reason my friends are here is because I sponsor them in AA, but they stay out of sight and in the back," he says. "I've been sober 26 years, and I only have three Jacuzzis. I can run this place by myself."