Follow-up on Escort Service as Head of service plans to name names

By More Articles by Eric Lipton
Published: April 29, 2007

WASHINGTON, April 28 — Deborah Jeane Palfrey has not been at all shy about it: for more than a decade she ran an escort service that catered to upscale clients in the nation’s capital, sending college-educated women to men’s homes or hotel rooms.

For about $300, she promised 90 minutes of what she has described as a discreet “legal high-end erotic fantasy service.” But the discreet part is over, after federal authorities charged her with operating a prostitution ring.

“The tentacles of this matter reach far, wide and high into the echelons of power in the United States,” Ms. Palfrey wrote in a court filing last month, as she prepared to release a list of her clients’ telephone numbers and vowed to subpoena her customers — some of whom she described as prominent Washington officials.

It is a defense strategy that had its first casualty Friday. “In my previous post was about Randall Tobias whose story brought to light this escort service run by Deborah Palfrey and as we now see what was only the beginning.”

Mr. Tobias is the third prominent Washington figure to be identified as among Ms. Palfrey’s clients. This month, she identified an adviser to the Pentagon as “one of the regular customers” of her service. She included in a court filing and posted on her Web site the man’s photo and tax records. Dick Morris, the television commentator and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who resigned in 1996 after reports that he was seeing a prostitute, was also a customer, Ms. Palfrey’s lawyer has said in court. Mr. Morris has denied the accusation.

Ms. Palfrey’s business, which operated from 1993 to 2006, had 15,000 customers and a pool of 130 or so escorts, ranging in age from 23 to 55, who worked as independent contractors, she said in one court filing.

“Best selection and availability before 9 p.m. each evening,” one advertisement she ran said.

Over the six years before the business shut down, she collected more than $750,000 from the escorts, with whom she split fees for each call, federal officials said in court filings.

Ms. Palfrey, who ran the Washington escort service out of her home in Vallejo, Calif., was convicted in 1991 of operating an illegal prostitution business in California and served 18 months in prison, according to federal authorities. She declined through her lawyer to comment on Saturday.

But she has insisted that her business, which she said catered to customers “from the refined walks of life here in the nation’s capital,” offered only “legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior,” like massages or nude dancing.

Federal authorities, who are pressing civil and criminal charges, say they are convinced that her escorts often crossed the line and that Ms. Palfrey knew they were working as prostitutes. Officials are trying to seize earnings from her business.

It is Ms. Palfrey’s defense strategy that is now causing the biggest stir.

She not only intends to identify more of her high-profile clients, but has also threatened to call them as witnesses at trial to back up her claim that the services provided never crossed the line to prostitution.

“I am a ferocious fighter when need be,” she wrote in an e-mail message this year to a Justice Department official involved in the case. “I can state with unequivocal certainty this situation will be a very long and unpleasant one.”

A federal judge ordered Ms. Palfrey to retain telephone records after she threatened to sell them to raise money for her defense. But she had already posted excerpts of the phone list on her Web site and given the list of calls from 2002 to 2006 to ABC News.

Montgomery Blair Sibley, Ms. Palfrey’s lawyer in the civil case, said on Saturday that about five lawyers had called to ask if their clients’ numbers were on the list. One lawyer asked if he could prevent the release of his client’s name or number, he said. The answer, Mr. Sibley said, was no.

“We are not in the business of trying to sell protection,” he said.

Information source: New York Times
April 29, 2007

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