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Lunch Crowd Craves Gossip on Escort Service

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, left, takes questions from Carol Joynt at Nathans of Georgetown. Palfrey is accused of running a prostitution ring.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey, left, takes questions from Carol Joynt at Nathans of Georgetown. Palfrey is accused of running a prostitution ring. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The subject may have been sex and Washington, but the only steam generated by lunch with the capital's most notorious escort service owner came from the pasta primavera.

Not for lack of trying by Q and A moderator Carol Joynt, who worked in vain to get some dish about the men behind the numbers on Deborah Jeane Palfrey's voluminous phone bills.

"Why Washington, D.C.?" Joynt, owner of Nathans of Georgetown, wanted to know. "What is it about the men here?"

"It's very sophisticated," said Palfrey, who ran a business specializing in what she calls erotic fantasies and what authorities call illegal prostitution. "Very liberal. And a higher brow." She has been charged with federal racketeering.

"Is this a particularly needy market?" Joynt pursued.

"Neediness is spread out all over," Palfrey demurred.

Anticipation and titillation levels were high in the checked-tablecloth restaurant as a mostly female, well-heeled crowd of 68 arrived for a $35 lecture featuring Palfrey and "Today" show travel correspondent Peter Greenberg.

Palfrey wasn't paid. All she got was a free lunch, which she and her hovering attorney consumed in a dank corner of the restaurant, in a hall leading to the kitchen, by the ladies' room.

"What I want to know is," inquired an older woman in vivid red and matching lipstick, right before the microphones were turned on, "why would you start this business, and why do you choose Washington?"

"Yeah! How do you get this kind of business going?" chimed in a woman in a blue twin set, giggling. "I just retired. I'm looking for something to do."

Palfrey sat on a stool in the middle of the room, looking dapper in gray pinstripes and pointed slingbacks. Her eyes, smudged with eyeliner, peeped through a wispy fringe of bangs, from under a set of arched eyebrows that looked both surprised and innocent, as though they'd been plucked to communicate, simply, "Moi?"

"I'm trying to figure out," Joynt said as the proceedings began yesterday at the only public event in Washington attended by Palfrey that hasn't also involved the courthouse steps, "what it means that there are so many women here today. Are there people here to apply for jobs? Or people who didn't want to appear here today?"

CONTINUED     1           >

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