By Sue Anne Pressley Montes and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 4, 2007
The alleged Washington Madam has "an exclusive interview" to sell.
In the latest marketing ploy by the woman who may or may not hold some of D.C.'s raciest secrets, Deborah Jeane Palfrey is turning to eBay. Next week, five one-hour interviews Palfrey did last month with an Internet-radio host are going up for bid. The starting price: $5,000.
No names connected with Palfrey's former escort service are revealed, but Palfrey hopes that someone will be interested in her "insights" on her ordeal as the object of a federal racketeering and prostitution probe. The auction follows on the heels of ABC's "20/20" airing a much-awaited segment tonight about Palfrey and her voluminous phone records. It could deliver a bombshell or fizzle.
Even before the broadcast, some parties have started reacting, reflecting fraying nerves as almost every day claims another casualty.
A prestigious law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Houer & Feld LLP, placed a legal secretary on administrative leave yesterday after she informed her employers that she moonlighted for Palfrey's escort service for "spa money," according to ABC's Web site.
ABC quoted R. Bruce McLean, the chairman of Akin Gump, as saying the woman told the firm Monday morning of her work for Palfrey, in violation of a policy barring employees from holding second jobs.
"She did not seek approval for that particular job, and would not have been given it," McLean was quoted as saying.
She also told her bosses that she was a government witness in the case, so the law firm hesitated to dismiss her, ABC said.
When contacted about the ABC report, a spokeswoman for Akin Gump said she would not discuss "an internal personnel matter."
The woman's attorney, Athan Tsimpedes, declined to comment, dismissing Palfrey as a woman who is "creating as much havoc as she can."
Last week, a deputy secretary of state abruptly resigned the day after ABC called him to ask about his dealings as a customer of Palfrey's former agency, Pamela Martin & Associates.
Palfrey -- who continues to say she is not talking, but continues to comment on the proceedings nonetheless -- has expressed regret for the troubles faced by escorts and customers who are unmasked. But with her assets frozen, she must raise money for her defense. Plus, she feels she has been mischaracterized.
"She's a very ladylike person. She should be wearing white gloves," said Lee Mirabal, vice president for network programming of San Diego-based wsRadio.com, who conducted the interviews.
Palfrey, 51, who lives in Vallejo, Calif., was interviewed last month at a studio and hotel for a new wsRadio.com program, "My Side of the Story." wsRadio.com has "partnered" with Palfrey to auction off the tapes, Mirabel said. President Chris Murch would not disclose details of the contract but said Palfrey will donate 10 percent of the proceeds to charity.
Federal prosecutors have said in court filings that Palfrey's assets could be seized as ill-gotten gains of a criminal business enterprise. But it is unlikely the government would go after income from the sale of the tapes, said prosecutors familiar with forfeiture cases.
Presuming she can sell them, that is. The question remains: Who would spend good money for tapes that tell everything except what everyone yearns to know -- the names of her high-powered clients?
"Oh my gosh, I have no idea -- I'm thinking maybe a media outlet," Mirabal said. ". . . We thought we should give it a go."
The tapes begin with Palfrey recounting how she tried to access her savings account while in Germany. But everything was frozen. "And it goes on and on from there," Mirabal said.
Mirabal spent time with Palfrey over the past month conducting the interviews. Now, Palfrey refers reporters to the Internet radio host "to 'pinch hit' for me," Palfrey said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "She can give you some real insight into me, my personality, motivation, and to some extent, where all this is headed."
For one thing, there's the pronunciation of Palfrey's name -- it's "PAUL-free," Mirabal said. Palfrey is not crazy about the nickname, "Washington Madam." But she prefers it to "D.C. Madam" or "Beltway Madam."
Then there is an issue, Mirabel said, more important to Palfrey than "the sex."
"For God's sake, people, let's forget the sex," she said. "Let's concentrate on forfeiture, this whole situation of seizing one's property before one is even convicted of anything, or, in this case, charged.
"Something is rotten in Denmark," she said, borrowing from Shakespeare. "I don't like it, and a lot of Americans don't like it."