Published April 15, 2008
A federal jury convicted the so-called D.C. madam on Tuesday of running a high-end prostitution ring whose clients included members of Washington's political elite.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 52, sighed as the verdict was read. She had repeatedly denied the escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.
Palfrey caused a sensation last year when she announced that to raise money for her defense, she intended to sell her phone records to any news outlet willing to pay. Palfrey said her defunct business, Pamela Martin & Associates, was "a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service" catering to clients "from the more refined walks of life here in the nation's capital."
She was convicted on all counts she faced: Money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering. The jury deliberated for seven hours on Monday and Tuesday.
The weeklong trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia included the testimony of 13 former escorts, most of whom said that Palfrey was careful not to talk about prostitution explicitly. But the women said they often discussed the subject with Palfrey in veiled terms.
Three of Palfrey's clients also testified, explaining how they found the service, how often they called, what they were hoping for and whether they got it during their visits.
"When a man agrees to pay $250 for 90 minutes with a woman, what do most men expect in that time?" prosecutor Daniel Butler said during closing arguments Monday. "In that context, it's pretty clear. Most men want sex."
Defense attorney Preston Burton, however, argued that what went on during the appointments was between the client and the escort. He compared Palfrey to a taxi dispatcher, who shouldn't be penalized for "the route the cab driver took."
The trial concluded without the testimony of two prominent men linked to the case: Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who has publicly apologized to constituents for what he called a "very serious sin"; and Randall L. Tobias, who resigned as a deputy secretary of state after acknowledging to ABC News that he used Palfrey's service for massages.
Burton said Palfrey planned to appeal the verdict. She will remain free pending her sentencing July 24.
Prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge James Robertson to lock Palfrey up immediately, arguing that the verdict gives her a motive to flee. But the judge refused, noting that Palfrey has never missed a court appearance.