LOS ANGELES—Following up on a report by male performer Devon Savage that the manager of the Northridge branch of Talent Testing Service told him last week that the facility has identified and reported to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services four new cases of syphilis among adult performers in the Los Angeles area, including a major male performer, TTS owner Sixto Pacheco in a call with AVN declined to confirm or deny the information.
Savage, who went to TTS along with his wife, performer Ariella Ferrera (who confirmed her husband's version of events) to get tested following a two-week vacation, spoke on the record to AVN about the incident because he was concerned that no one other than the individuals allegedly infected and the L.A. County Department of Health Services were being informed of the situation. AVN followed up with Pacheco to get confirmation of the general information that Savage says he was given, and to ask about any possible follow-up by TTS.
The following is an abbreviated version of Savage’s experience as told to AVN:
My wife and I went in to get our tests updated yesterday [Aug. 8]. We'd been out of town for two weeks on vacation with family. We got back and went into Talent Testing Service (in Northridge), and the two same people were there who are always there. The guy who runs the place and the girl who tests everybody. So I'm sitting there texting, paying the bill, and as I'm sitting there the main guy, who tends to run his mouth a bit, said, "So you know there are four new cases of syphilis in L.A. among performers?"
I looked up and said, "What? What are you talking about?"
He said, "Yeah, there are four new cases of syphilis in L.A., and one of them is a major, major male talent."
"You mean like major male talent, like one of the big guys?" And I'm naming off names. Obviously, he's not going to give up the names, so he says, "Well, I can't tell you, but I'm just telling you there have been four cases recently of syphilis and one of them is a major male talent."
At first, I was like, okay, because I've been in the business since 2004, and I'm pretty much used to the way AIM used to do things. When something happened, they told everybody and alerted producers and directors so everyone would be safe. And I didn't really think to ask him at that time, or say anything; I just sort of let it roll over me, saying something like, "Really there are four cases here? Because there are 20 or so cases in Europe." AVN reported last week on the situation in Budapest.
I've been out of the loop for the past couple of weeks, but I figured [the infections] had to have been within the past month the way he was bringing it up and it was so fresh in his mind.
Now, syphilis if left untreated can cause spinal problems, blindness, neurological disorders and even death, so I would think it would be a top priority for somebody to tell somebody if four cases had just cropped up in the L.A. area amongst performers. Because it's not just those four people, but we have to trace it back to the people they may have worked with, just like with HIV.
I kind of figured that they had started following up already. I thought they were handling themselves just like AIM did, but later on, after my wife and I left the clinic, we were going shopping and stuff and I'm thinking to myself, you know what, I don't trust anybody these days (or ever), so I'm going to call these people back to see if they are contacting producers and directors and making sure these people are on a "no shoot" list.
So I called them back and the nurse answered. Now, she hadn't said anything; it was the manager that had done all the talking. So I mentioned to her that we had just been in there, and she was, like, "Hey, Devon, how are you doing?"
I said to her, "You guys just told me that four people had just come down with syphilis and one of them was a major male talent..." and the first thing she does is start sputtering and says, "I didn't tell you that."
"Well, he did," I said, referring to the manager.
She repeated, "Well, I didn't tell you that."
And I said, "Well, you guys basically told me this; he told me, whatever. But have you guys alerted producers and directors? This is not something where you say, this is a fucking cold, or like with chlamydia or gonorrhea, which can go longer if untreated. This is not something small. This is syphilis."
She said, "Well, we're talking with the performers and they're getting treated as necessary."
I said, "No, you don't understand. They've been working with numerous people—especially if it's a major male talent. So this could have been going on for a while, and there are a lot of people who need to be notified, if this is an actual fact."
And she was, like, "Well, we've been taking care of it on our end and doing everything professionally, blah, blah, blah..."
So I just said that they needed to contact people. And then she said something to me but my phone was breaking up at that point, but it was something like, "We're going to take care of it. We're going to contact people that are necessary."
[After hanging up with TTS, Devon said he immediately called Cutting Edge clinic to let them know. He said they were unaware of the information and that the clinic's physician, Dr. Miao, called him back. Devon said his conversation with the doctor was very unsatisfying—AVN]
I don't know the guy and don't know his credentials, but he is the doctor over there at Cutting Edge. He gets on the phone and said, "Well, you know, we don't test for syphilis because it's so rare. We don't test for it but every three to six months."
I said, "I am telling you right now that I was just told that four brand-new cases, one being a major male talent, has happened over at TTS. I just left the place and that's what they told me."
He's like, "Well, it's kind of a waste to do those tests on syphilis because we get a lot of false positives."
"I don't care if you get a thousand false positives," I said. "If there was one positive in there, we need to know about it."
And he's like, "Well, it's just kind of a waste, and it's a lot of effort and money." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He was just telling me the chances of getting syphilis, but I was telling him, "Dude, there are four new cases. I'm not asking for your breakdown of the history of the disease."
I said, "Well, I was just told that four people are positive, so wouldn't you want to start checking people in the industry so this doesn't get worse?" Because it can go from four people to 40 people to 400 people in a very short time. He just basically disgusted me on the phone, and gave me no answers and gave me no sense that he was going to do anything or follow up with anything.
So, the first thing I think about are all of my friends in this industry. I perform with other women for the five websites I own with my wife, and she performs constantly with other producers for other companies. So I got on the horn and just start texting everybody I know in the industry, giving them the same message: TTS just told me when I was in there that four performers have brand-new cases of syphilis and one of them is a major male talent. I texted everybody, directors and talent.
I believe I was the first person this meathead opened his mouth to, but nobody has said anything about knowing about this, not one person, so I don't know if this was extremely recent and he just opened his mouth to the wrong person.
So all of this is taking place while we were still out shopping, but then we go home and a couple of hours later my phone rings with a number I don't recognize. I pick it up, and lo and behold, it's the manager from TTS, and he says, "Hey, Devon, you don't have to worry about any of that."
"I don't have to worry about what?"
"You don't have to worry about that syphilis thing because we have it under control," he said.
"You have it under control?"
He said, "Yes. The people that got it are being treated and are not working right now, and we have let the County Health Department know."
I asked him, "How can you guarantee that they are not working? If you are not letting people know they have it, why would a guy whose bread and butter is having sex for a living stop just because he's got syphilis and is taking medication for it?" I said, "How can you confirm that they're not working? Did you follow them from their house as they go about their day?"
My point was that if you take a major male talent who you have just told has syphilis—and the guy knows he has syphilis already and knows there's nothing he can do about it, and he's taking medication, I don't know how long you've been in this industry, but I know there are quite a few people who would say, 'Fucking bag it, I'm not going to lose three months of work, because it's three months of work and three shots.'
And, as far as people they may have already worked with, they're not doing anything about that! That's why I was calling. I told him, "You guys have to alert producers and directors so they can get a handle on this and find out who these people have worked with and stop them from working."
I told him it's useless to just tell the County Health Department and then presume to think that talent are going to stop performing. I said, "That's stupid. They might just take the medication and keep performing because no one is ever going to know they had it."
He didn't know what to say other than, "It's handled. Don't you worry. Everything's cool. We told the County Health and all these people are getting medicated and they are not performing right now." So then we hung up.
Look, when I walk out of TTS and somebody tells me four performers came down with syphilis and one of them is a major male performer, and they're not doing anything about it, I'm going to let people know.
Immediately after speaking with Devon Savage, this reporter sent TTS owner Sixto Pacheco the following email:
I recently spoke with a male talent named Devon who said he was informed yesterday by the manager of your Northridge facility that there are four new cases of syphilis in Los Angeles, and that County Health had been informed. I would like to confirm that information with TTS, and also ask what is being done as a follow up. Your manager told the male talent that County Health has been notified and the four performers are not working, but I am also curious whether TTS is following up with additional testing for the four and also with any of the partners they may have worked with, and also whether any studios have been informed of these cases.
I am working on a story now and would greatly appreciate any information you can give me that will help explain exactly what happened.
I also called and left a voicemail with Sixto at the same time. After receiving no response to either the email or the call, I made another call on Friday, during which I spoke with Sixto from the TTS offices in Miami.
After informing him that the purpose of the call was to follow up on questions asked in the email, he said, "We have no comment. Our branch manager out there has no authority to say things about statistics of our talent population in terms of testing."
I replied that even if that's the case, Devon said he did say something. "Unfortunately, then, I have to say that we have no comment about that," Sixto replid.
When pressed again that, in that case, could he just confirm whether the cases are real, he said, "Whatever cases arise, we do report them as stipulated by law to the County Health Department for follow-up and further testing."
I then asked why there was a problem confirming what happened, if anything, and added that, unfortunately, the manager may have gone farther than just saying there were cases, Sixto replied, "Even if he did go farther than that, and he wasn't supposed to do that, it doesn't give you the authority to demand additional information. "
I then asked if he could simply confirm what his manager had said, and he said, "I don't even know exactly what he said. You're getting that from a tertiary party." By tertiary, I assume he meant a third party source, but Devon Savage was in fact a primary source for the information that was allegedly given directly by the TTS manager.
I told Sixto that, according to Devon the manager had called him back and repeated the claims made hours earlier in the office.
"Let's take a step back here," said Sixto. "We started offering the syphilis test here as part of our basic panel, and that started about a month ago. If we've had cases that came out to be positive, and again I'm saying if we've had cases that came up positive, then it could be mainly caused ... because we've never tested for it before ... so if you're trying to tie what's happening to what's happening in Eastern Europe to what's happening in L.A., I can't even speculate on that because we don't have previous information.
We said we were not trying to tie anything to anyone, but the alleged cases in Hungary, combined with four alleged new cases in Los Angeles, made this a newsworthy story.
He repeated that he could not tie any European cases to any cases in L.A., and added, "We get positive chlamydias all the time. Is that not newsworthy?"
"It's not as newsworthy," I said, "because cases of syphilis are much rarer," and added that it was apparently noteworthy for the manager at Northridge because he made a big point out of mentioning it to Devon.
"No, he didn't make a big point out of it," insisted Sixto.
"He did according to this other fellow," I replied.
"Then there's your tertiary source," he said. "That's your problem right there."
I said that I could only go by what I was told, and was only trying to find out what really happened, if anything, adding that Devon was very specific about the conversation with the manager and the subsequent call.
"I'm not making any connections with Hungary," I said, "but what I'm being told is that once you get syphilis the antibodies are in your body forever and you will always test positive. So what I'm also trying to find, and what I don't know, is if this is that situation. And do those cases still have to be reported?
"I wouldn't be able to answer that question," said Sixto.
"Why not," I asked.
"Because that's confidential information," he replied. "You're asking me to give you testing results on presumed positive cases, which I cannot confirm."
"No, I am not," I said. "I am asking about legal requirements. I read on the L.A. County Health Department site yesterday that syphilis has to be reported within one day, but what I don't know is if that holds for someone who comes in who previously had syphilis..."
"All cases," he said, referring to the reporting requirement. "Any case that comes up positive, any case. It's not positive ... it's called a reactive case. It doesn't mean it's an old or new case; it can be any case."
"This is kind of unfortunate," I said. "I'm trying to get some basic information, because a performer was concerned about what happened to him at TTS. He was told something that concerned him. Now I'm just trying to find out if the cases were there, and are they new cases that were they sent to County.
"We wouldn't know," he said.
"You wouldn't know?"
"We wouldn't know because we started testing for syphilis a month ago," he said. "We don't know if it's an old case, a new case. What we do know is that we need to report it to the County Department of Health."
"Okay, so you guys don't know. That's helpful. That's information I didn't know. Look, I'm only working on information provided me, that [your Northridge manager] called Devon back and told him the performers aren't working anymore and Health had been notified. He told him not to worry, they're on medication, Health has been notified and they're not working anymore. Three very specific pieces of information."
"That I will not confirm or deny," he said. "If our guy said that, he's not supposed to be saying that and if you want me to confirm the information..."
"That is why I was calling..."
"I'm not going to confirm it."
"Okay, I appreciate your time."
* * * * *
After speaking with Sixto, we once again called Devon Savage in order to speak with his wife, Ariella Ferrera, who we had not spoken with previously. She corroborated Devon's account of the event, and stated that she was witness to the manager making the claims of syphilis cases. She also confirmed that Devon had gotten a call from the TTS manager later that night, though she was not on the call to hear the other side of the conversation. She also stated that having gotten her college degree in health, she was well informed about the long-term risks associated with syphilis, was adamant that they were potentially very serious, and said she was very upset with the apparent lack of alarm she was seeing in response to the cases.
To be clear, AVN has no issues whatsoever with TTS as far as its testing services are concerned, and does not question its commitment to provide superior lab services to the industry at an affordable cost. Neither do we question its decision to stick to its core competency of testing and foregoing aftercare, which is something Sixto made clear during a recent meeting with agents and performers, when he said, "We're not a hospital. You know, we don't provide aftercare. We're not a clinic ... when we started Talent Testing Service our idea was not to be an AIM." And of course, we do not question that TTS abides by applicable laws that require it to report STDs to the appropriate government agency.
AVN also contacted Dr. Peter Miao of Cutting Edge Testing following the conversation with Devon. The doctor told us that because he had no information from TTS about supposed new cases of syphilis, he could not comment on it at all. But he did tell us even before we had a chance to explain how upset Devon had been with his response, that he (Devon) had every right to be concerned about what he says he had been told. Dr Miao gave us no indication that he took the news of four possible new syphilis cases lightly, and in fact he asked us to put something in the article that stated that if there are recently infected performers in L.A., could they please let Cutting Edge or APHSS know so that the industry could begin the process of partner notification and self-protection, if needed. Their privacy, he said, would of course be strictly protected, but he added that the county will not protect the interests of the industry by notifying producers or directors, and that only the industry can do that for itself if it has the necessary information.
When Devon Savage spoke with AVN last week, in fact, he stated several times that it was precisely the partner notification aspect of the situation as it was presented to him that concerned him the most. Both he and his wife said that they assumed that TTS, like AIM [Healthcare Foundation], would notify the industry at large of the cases in order to ensure that the infected parties would not be able to work until they were no longer contagious. Only when they realized that no such process was in place did they begin notifying their contacts in the industry about what they heard, and it was through those notifications that AVN became aware of their story. Savage contacted AVN at that point, eager to go on the record.
Regarding general facts about syphilis, the County of Los Angeles public health website states, "Syphilis is passed during vaginal, anal, oral sex, or skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. "
It also states that syphilis...
* Is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum.
* Is currently at historically low levels in the U.S., however rates have greatly increased among some groups such as men who have sex with men.
* Can be cured with antibiotics.
* If left untreated, can cause permanent damage to the heart, brain, and other organs.
* Can increase your chances of getting HIV.
"Syphilis," the County also states, "is a disease of stages. Each stage is characterized by different symptoms. These symptoms come and go, but unless syphilis is treated and cured, it will remain in the body and can cause serious damage over time. The early stages are:
"* Primary syphilis: A painless sore (or sores) called a chancre appears on, around, or inside the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. The chancre appears 10 days to three months after exposure. The sore is full of bacteria and is very infectious. Many people never notice the chancre because it may be inside the vagina or somewhere else hard to see or feel. Chancres generally last two to six weeks and then disappear on their own.
"* Secondary syphilis: A few weeks after the chancres disappear, a rash may appear on the body, hands, and/or feet. The rash is infectious and can look like other rashes and even wart-like growths. Other symptoms may include mild fever, sore throat, or clumpy hair loss. These symptoms may come and go for about a year.
"*Latent syphilis: A year after infection, symptoms usually disappear on their own and the person is no longer infectious to sex partners. However, the disease is still in the body and can cause serious complications years later."
With respect to treatment, the County states, "Syphilis can be easily treated and cured with certain antibiotics (given as a shot). Make sure both you and your sex partner(s) complete treatment before having sex again. You should not attempt to diagnose yourself or take medicine on your own."
In terms of prevention, it states, "Latex, polyurethane, and female condoms offer some protection against syphilis, but may not cover all infectious areas. "
Because syphilis can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, condoms offer limited protection, and make the testing and notification process that accompanies cases of syphilis infections crucial in terms of preventing new infections.