Everyone agrees that on Sept. 25, Ken Impellizeri, a San Diego Police detective, paid Anja Lee, a 59-year-old Korean massage technician, to touch him. But it's a battle over her role-masseuse or prostitute-that could cost Lee the right to practice her trade in San Diego.
Lee was arrested for alleged prostitution on Sept. 25 after officers from the San Diego Police Department's vice unit conducted a covert inspection at Anna Spa, where Lee had worked for nearly a year.
Posing as a customer and wearing a wire, Impellizeri must have thought he had Lee red handed after he allegedly made arrangements for a "happy ending" and gave the signal for other vice officers to move in. But his case against her would probably have been much stronger had his team remembered to bring the proper recording equipment. With no tape and both Lee and Impellizeri reluctant to discuss the case, observers are forced to rely on their sworn testimony given during a hearing before administrative hearing officer Alan Alvord, which illustrates their encounter in graphic detail.
Both testified that on Sept. 25, Impellizeri entered Anna Spa on El Cajon Boulevard and asked Lee for a half-hour massage. He paid $50 before being led to a room where he undressed and laid down on a massage table. Lee entered the room and started massaging Impellizeri while making small talk.
"As we went on, I asked her if I could get a little more than just a massage," Impellizeri told Alvord.
Lee then asked him what he meant and Impellizeri responded that he had previously received sex and a blowjob at another massage parlor. Finally, both parties agreed that Lee said she "did not do that and didn't want to get into trouble."
From this point their accounts differ significantly.
Impellizeri claimed that he continued to press Lee into having sex with him, asking her how they would get into trouble if they were the only two in the room.
"She asked if I was a gentleman. I told her I was a gentleman and, in my opinion, she was considering it," he said.
At this point during their conversation, Impellizeri claimed Lee reached under his towel, touched his penis and asked him how much money he had. He went to his pants to look and negotiations commenced.
"I took $50 out and she shook her head no," he said. "She was being very quiet, she didn't want to use words. She would just shake her head or nod her head.... She motioned with her hand that she would give me a hand job," he said, moving his right fist up and down in the universal sign for manual stimulation. "She said in broken English, "I give you hand job for $40.'"
Impellizeri testified that he then said "OK," gave Lee $40 and gave the prearranged arrest signal to other officers monitoring the transaction via the hidden microphone. During the time that it took them to gain access to the spa, Impellizeri claims that Lee touched his penis a second time.
Answering her lawyer's questions through an interpreter, Lee told Alvord a very different story. She testified that after Impellizeri asked her for "a little more," she did ask him what he wanted but didn't have anything sexual in mind.
"Some customers want more pressure on their bodies," she said. "I thought he wanted me to massage him harder."
Lee added that in addition to telling Impellizeri that she didn't provide sexual services and didn't want to get into trouble, she also tried to discourage him by telling him she didn't have a condom and that she had a boyfriend.
"I wanted to make it clear that I didn't want to do it, but he already implied that he wants more," she said. "I said that I don't want to have anything to do with it.... I said no."
But Lee said Impellizeri persisted, putting $40 and a condom on a table and lying back down. She said she continued to massage him but did nothing illegal. "I never touched his penis.... He put my hand on his stomach. I never touched his genitals.... I didn't touch the money."
Hearing knocking at the front door, Lee said she stepped out of the room but returned quickly after learning it was the police. She claimed she put the money back into Impellizeri's pants. "I was afraid if they came and saw, even though I didn't do anything, they would frame me and I would get into trouble," she said. "It was just my natural human instinct."
Moments later, police officers entered the room and Lee was handcuffed and arrested for prostitution. But the rap didn't stick. With no hard evidence and only Impellizeri's word against Lee's, the city attorney's office decided not to pursue the matter. The charge against Lee was quickly dropped.
But insufficient evidence to charge Lee with prostitution isn't stopping the police from trying to put her out of business. Using its power to regulate and license massage parlors and employees, pool halls, peep booths, exotic dancers and other businesses and professions, the department revoked Lee's massage-technician permit.
"They are not mutually exclusive," said Rob Hurt, a lieutenant with the department's vice unit. "We don't necessarily need a [criminal case] to bolster or support an [administrative case]."
Lee exercised her right to appeal the revocation, but a month after the hearing, Alvord issued his decision, siding with the cops.
"Unfortunately, due to mechanical and/or human error, the recording equipment did not function and there is no tape of the undercover inspection," Alvord wrote. "We must therefore rely on the versions given by the parties."
Alvord continued, noting that Lee had held a massage-technician permit for the past seven years without any history of discipline, but in the end decided to take officer Impellizeri's word over Lee's with no explanation. "The undercover officer's testimony was credible and accepted," wrote Alvord. "[Lee] was persuasive that she is remorseful, but her testimony and denials are not credible. [Lee] intentionally touched the undercover officer's penis twice during the massage."
Alvord ruled to revoke Lee's license. He later refused to comment on the case. But Richard Muir, Lee's attorney, had plenty to say.
"She has been denied due process...." he said. "The police are under no obligation to tape record anything, but if they make an effort to tape record it, and for some reason it malfunctions, then there is... negligent destruction of evidence. I don't have any evidence that it was done deliberately, although I have my suspicions.
"If they had recorded it, it would have substantiated her innocence."
Now facing her final appeal, Lee's last hope of keeping her license and her career lies with the five elected officials-San Diego City Council members Michael Zucchet, Donna Frye, Brian Maienschein, Charles Lewis and Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins, who comprise the City Council's seemingly sympathetic Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.
Lee scored a major victory in April when they voted 4-1 to hear her case.
Atkins, who made the motion in favor of reviewing Lee's situation, said she is concerned about the lack of evidence. "This is her livelihood-her source of employment, and we need to be sure we see the proof," she said in an e-mail. "I think the benefit goes to the accused until there is proof of guilt and I didn't see proof."
The committee is scheduled to evaluate Lee's case on June 9 when the masseuse no doubt hopes to score her own happy ending.