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Massage Today
April 29, 2010

Opponents Call Backers of Law Targeting Massage Therapists "Liars"

Assembly Member Swanson Accused of Slandering the Massage Profession

By Christie Bondurant

Opponents of a proposed anti-prostitution law that requires "in-person" police investigations of California massage therapists accuse its author, State Assembly Member Sandré Swanson, of slandering "the entire profession" and have called the data used to justify it an "outrageous lie."

Swanson (D-Alameda) has failed to respond to repeated requests from Massage Today to discuss both Assembly Bill 1822 and a survey used to justify the bill that asserts that 89 percent of applicants for therapist certifications are either prostitutes or of "questionable backgrounds."

"Assembly Member Swanson's claim that 89 percent of massage applicants are prostitutes or of questionable character slanders the entire profession," said Mike Schroeder, a board member of the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC). The Council is charged with issuing certifications to therapists under a two-year-old law.

"He knows that his claim is false and he should apologize to the entire profession," Schroeder said.

After Massage Today's initial conversations that began on April 21 with Swanson's office, where staffers indicated a willingness to setup an interview with the assemblyman, Swanson's office failed to setup an interview or to even return e-mails. As a result, Massage Today was unable to obtain Swanson's comments for this story.

Effect and Cause

If passed, AB 1822 effectively neuters a two-year-old massage certification law that placed certification in the hands of a state board, the CAMTC.

That law (Senate Bill 731) created the Council and gave it authority to conduct both professional and criminal background checks prior to issuing statewide certifications to work anywhere in California. Considered a major reform measure, SB 731 was enacted because it was clear that the old system, which required therapists to get work approvals in every jurisdiction where they had clients, was both onerous and ineffective in preventing criminals from operating "massage" facilities.

Swanson voted in favor of the reform.

But the law he is now proposing essentially returns California to the old system and gives local police the real power to issue work permits to practitioners. In order to legally practice, applicants would be required to present themselves in-person to the local agency where they will be doing business, regardless of whether or not they have become certified by the CAMTC.

While Swanson has ignored interview requests, a letter he wrote supporting his bill offers up this justification for it: ". . . (T)he need for this urgency is a recent random sampling of CAMTC applicants, which concluded that 57 percent of the applicants were known prostitutes and 32 percent had questionable backgrounds that required additional investigation," Swanson wrote.

This statement strongly implies that the new state board has failed in its duty to weed out undesirables from operating illegal prostitution and human trafficking schemes, yet to date, neither Swanson, nor the organization that produced the data, the California Police Chiefs Association, has provided anything beyond a sampling of "applicants."

Thus far, the only public statement alleging that CAMTC has let undesirables obtain authorization to work has come from a lobbyist for the Police Chiefs Association, John Lovell, who told Massage Today that there have been "several hundred certificants with past convictions."

This contention was strongly denied by CAMTC executive director, Ahmos Netanel, who said that Council data shows that police departments are the ones who have allowed criminals to pass background checks, not the Council.

Under the current state law (SB 731), criminal history checks are conducted at both the state and federal levels prior to the Council issuing certification, Netanel said.

"The CAMTC has never approved anyone who was not already approved through the DOJ (Department of Justice)," said Netanel.

Netanel also stated in a document calling for opposition to the bill: "CAMTC has rejected 3,424 applicants, who had passed (emphasis added) background checks by local law enforcement, but when checked through CAMTC's process did not pass muster. In fact, so far 346 of those already approved locally were found to have criminal backgrounds and denied the statewide certification."

Schroeder called the statistics used to support the bill, "An outrageous lie they told about the profession. They knew it was a lie when they said it. And I believe every member should call his (Swanson's) office and demand an explanation as to why they've slandered the profession."

The CAMTC believes that this bill, if passed, will put back in place a system that didn't work. "AB 1822 is bringing back the old broken system," Netanel said.

"The reason why the old system didn't work is because it was run on the local level. If (a criminal doesn't) qualify with one city they'll just go to the next city until they do. California will become the haven for human trafficking."

Some CAMTC board members have called AB 1822 a mere "turf bill" posing as an anti-prostitution law that is based on a thinly sourced survey -- leaving many in the massage community questioning its origin and the motives behind it.

Schroeder, who believes the survey was used as a false means to gain support of the bill, said: "This is a pure turf bill where some police chiefs want their turf back."

Claims From a Survey

The key data being cited as justification for the bill is a "random/regional sample" survey of CAMTC applicants in San Mateo city and regions around the city. This survey, compiled by the Police Chiefs Association, claimed that 89 percent of these applicants were prostitutes or had questionable backgrounds.

When Massage Today asked to view this data used to produce this survey, Lovell stated that it was based on a summary of sensitive information that he could not supply.

When asked to see the collected data that was shared with Swanson for the composition of this bill, Lovell stated that it was in a letter sent to Swanson proposing AB 1822, and to contact his office for it.

Criminal Backgrounds

Lovell went on to say that the Police Chiefs Association requested applicant information from police departments statewide and learned of ". . . a number of convicted (persons) who were certified."

When asked to provide this data, he stated that he was unable to provide an exact number due to the "secretive" behavior of the CAMTC.

Although CAMTC provides a secure law enforcement login to verify certification, Lovell said that the board has been uncooperative in helping them determine the percentage of applicants with criminal backgrounds who have gained certification.

Regardless of this, Lovell stated that from the data compiled so far, they were able to determine "several hundred certificants with past convictions."

When asked to see this data, Lovell stated that the data is incomplete and that not all police departments in the state have submitted their information.

Another Police Perspective

Richard McElroy, CAMTC board member and a former police officer who investigated illegal massage parlors for more than 25 years, states that the CAMTC's review process is superior to all past methods of vetting massage professionals.

McElroy, who also wrote the Los Angeles Police Department's manual that is used to abate massage brothels stated in documents opposed to the bill:

"The following are the reasons why (CAMTC's) review and investigative process is superior to all past methods of vetting massage professions:

  • (CAMTC) not only examines the DOJ background report, but pays an additional charge to receive subsequent arrest notification from DOJ when the applicant is arrested at a later date. Local police departments do not.
  • (CAMTC) sends out notifications to the cities where the applicant lives and works (current and past) requesting any criminal information they have that the CAMTC should consider when reviewing an application. Local police departments do not.
  • (CAMTC) has contracted with a private investigative firm to research and physically pull court documents from any location in the state as well as recovering criminal information from out-of-state. Local police departments do not.
  • (CAMTC) is a member of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and has access to the National Practitioners Database, which provides information on applicants who have disciplinary history in the various states where they have been licensed.
  • (CAMTC) has the right to investigate applicants' education, and which sometimes uncovers educational fraud and/or applicants. Most local police departments do not investigate applicants' education.
  • (CAMTC) has the right to interview applicants and will, when necessary, contact the individual applicant to determine the character and intentions of the applicant."

Claims of Uncooperative Behavior

Out of frustration with the CAMTC's "secretive" and "uncooperative" behavior, Lovell, who was also the past lobbyist for SB 731, stated: "The bill is going to pass. SB 731 sunsets in 2016. And if in 2016, we are in the same mess we have now with the exclusionary behavior by the board, we will conclude that this is a failed experiment."

In response to Lovell's claims of the CAMTC behaving uncooperatively, Beverly May, CAMTC chair, shared some of her history in working with the Police Chiefs Association. She stated: "When creating SB 731, I chose Lovell because of his relationship with the Police Chiefs Association."

When May (San Mateo County resident) heard of San Mateo police considering the repeal of SB 731, she contacted Mike Callagy, deputy police chief to setup a meeting to discuss the issue. According to May, Callagy stated to her at their meeting that they were on the same side.

"I felt very comfortable with our meeting until October when I asked to meet with both Mike and John (Lovell) and was denied. I was completely shut out." She went on, "After my attempts, they never contacted me or reached out and went to find an author (for AB 1822) against Oropeza's (author of SB 731) wishes."

AB 1822 recently passed the Business, Professionals and Consumer Protection Committee (see Massage Today article) and is currently sitting in the Assembly Appropriations Committee waiting to be discussed within the next couple of weeks.

For a list of the Appropriations Committees' phone numbers and emails, go to

To contact Assembly Member Sandre Swanson's capitol office call (916) 319-2016 or email him at , or contact his legislative consultant Opio Dupree .

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