Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article incorrectly described the title of Harlan K. Ullman as a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is a senior associate, which is a non-paid position. This version has been corrected.

Trial Starts in Case of Upscale Escort Service

Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her mother, Blanche Palfrey, arrive at the D.C. courthouse.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her mother, Blanche Palfrey, arrive at the D.C. courthouse. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, accused of running an upscale prostitution service for a white-collar clientele in the Washington area, went on trial in federal court yesterday as a prosecutor warned jurors that they will hear "embarrassing" explicit testimony from call girls and customers, most of them appearing reluctantly under court orders and grants of immunity.

"You're going to hear from clients, johns, who perhaps haven't told their families . . . about their involvement with this agency," Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Connelly said. Describing the witness chair in U.S. District Judge James Robertson's courtroom as "the hottest seat in D.C. this week," she told the jurors they could "rest assured that very few" of those called to testify are looking forward to the experience.

She did not specify how many men would testify, but said that "over a dozen" women would be called to the witness stand.

Palfrey, 52, caused a stir in Washington by threatening to expose her customers by making her telephone records public. After she was indicted last spring, she said her defunct escort 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 said the men paid $250 an hour to engage in sexual game-playing with the escorts she employed, mostly women in their 20s with college educations. If any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, Palfrey said, they did so without her knowledge.

Palfrey's attorney, Preston Burton, said in court yesterday that his witness list includes two names that have previously surfaced in the case: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has publicly apologized to constituents without saying what he had done wrong; 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.

Connelly said her witness list includes Harlan K. Ullman, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who developed a military doctrine that he called "shock and awe." Ullman's attorney, who was observing in court yesterday, would not comment on his client's involvement. Palfrey has identified Ullman as a customer.

"This case is not about prosecuting prostitution," Connelly told the jury in her opening statement. Palfrey, who started the escort service in 1993 and was running the business from her Northern California home when it folded in 2006, is charged with financial racketeering, money-laundering and using the mail for illegal purposes.

Authorities have said in court filings that the escort service generated about $2 million in illicit income for Palfrey.

Burton said his client ran her business openly and did nothing wrong, arranging for her escorts to meet clients in their homes and hotel rooms in the Washington area.

"Deborah Jeane Palfrey is not guilty," Burton told the jury. "She doesn't want to be here. You shouldn't be here. This case shouldn't be here. . . . My client did not sell sex. My client sold appointments."

He added: "She's like a taxi dispatcher. You call her up and she sends a taxi. What happens after that is between you and the driver."

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