washingtonpost.com > Business > Local Business

'D.C. Madam' Case Generating More Winces Than Thrills

Deborah Jeane Palfrey contends that her company was
Deborah Jeane Palfrey contends that her company was "a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service" with clients "from the more refined walks of life." (By Jay Mallin -- Bloomberg News)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008

How delightfully naughty Deborah Jeane Palfrey seemed a year ago, when the erstwhile escort entrepreneur first titillated the nation's capital. How sinfully delicious it sounded when she announced she would make public some records, exposing men who had used her service and women she had hired to indulge her clients' most intimate fantasies.

And what a squalid, pathetic affair it has become.

Four days into Palfrey's racketeering and money-laundering trial in the District, as federal prosecutors seek to prove that "the D.C. Madam" (or "Julia," as she called herself) required her escorts to perform sex acts with customers for cash, jurors have learned perhaps more than they cared to know about the many challenges a prostitute faces at work.

Prosecutor: "Of those 80 appointments, approximately how many times did you have sex?"

Ex-call girl: "Seventy-nine. . . . All except the gentleman who was a quadriplegic."

The jurors have watched a procession of scared, mortified ex-prostitutes (13 so far) reluctantly take the witness stand, forced to reveal their secret former lives in intermittently graphic detail -- a past each clearly hoped was buried forever. Most testified that they grew weary of the business in less than a year and quit.

At $250 for 60 minutes or so, these weren't high-priced call girls, it turns out. They didn't measure up in appearance to the elites in the business. As the women tell it, Palfrey's niche was a middle-of-the-road, largely suburban clientele -- a long way up from the streetwalker trade, but well south of Emperors Club VIP, the four-figure-per-hour call girl outfit that last month proved the undoing of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer.

Defense attorney: "Ma'am, you ultimately decided that this wasn't for you, right? . . . I believe you were tired of lying to your boyfriend, correct?"

Ex-call girl: "Yes."

Defense attorney: "And you're not particularly happy to be here, are you, ma'am?"

Ex-call girl: "Who would be?"

The eight women and six men of the jury, 12 of whom will decide the case, have heard one former prostitute describe the herpes that she said she contracted while working for Palfrey. They've been told about clients' sexual fetishes, regrettable hygiene habits and unsightly skin maladies.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company