Four Former Call Girls Testify at Palfrey Trial
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Four self-described former call girls testified in federal court yesterday that Deborah Jeane Palfrey ran her D.C. escort service as a front for upscale prostitution, dispatching young, tastefully dressed women to homes and hotels in the Washington area for $250-an-hour sex with male clients.
Clearly none of the women relished reliving an unsavory past on the witness stand in U.S. District Court, all of them having given up moonlighting as illicit escorts several years ago. Their pained expressions, slumped shoulders and often halting, whispered, euphemistic accounts of what they did for money suggested they would rather have been almost anywhere else.
Two acknowledged longtime clients of Palfrey's now-defunct business -- both lawyers, one of whom started using the service as a law student at Yale University in 1994 -- also appeared less than enthusiastic to be on the witness stand, forced to state for the record their names, ages, places of residence and how many times they paid for sex with Palfrey's well-mannered, college-educated escorts.
How many? Dozens of times, each man said.
"May I go now?" lawyer Paul Huang, 44, of Rockville, said after Palfrey's attorney finished questioning him. Huang wiped his brow. "I have to run seven miles tonight. Run off some of the stress."
Like the women, Huang and Yale graduate Christopher Sorrow, 35, of Arlington were compelled to testify under grants of immunity that prevented them from remaining silent under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Like Sorrow, Huang later hustled away from the courthouse with a coat over his head, a paralegal from the U.S. attorney's office shielding him from television cameras with a black umbrella.
Whether some of the escorts employed by Palfrey from 1993 to 2006 performed sex acts with clients for money is not in dispute. At issue in the trial is whether Palfrey, 52, who ran the business from her home in Northern California, was aware of the prostitution. She says the sex went on without her knowledge, that the dozens of women who worked for her "high-end erotic fantasy service" were supposed to engage only in legal, "quasi-sexual" game-playing.
Palfrey, who created a public fuss after her indictment last year when she threatened to expose her clients by revealing her telephone records, is charged with racketeering, money laundering and using the mail for illegal purposes.
If yesterday's parade of red-faced witnesses was not enough, more testimony unsuitable for the family hour could come soon from men with higher profiles than the two suburban lawyers.
Palfrey's witness list includes Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who apologized to constituents for "a very serious sin in my past" after his name surfaced in the case in July, though he did not say what sin he had committed. Also on Palfrey's list is Randall L. Tobias, a former deputy secretary of state who resigned last April after acknowledging to ABC News that he used the service for massages.
The prosecution's list includes Harlan K. Ullman, an associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who developed the military doctrine that he called "shock and awe." Ullman has declined to comment on the case.
It's uncertain, though, whether any of the three will be called to testify.