LOS ANGELES, DEC. 2 -- Heidi Fleiss, who ran a notorious ring of high-priced, short-skirted prostitutes for Los Angeles glitterati, was convicted today on pandering charges that carry a prison sentence of up to nearly nine years.
The seven-man, five-woman jury spent four days deliberating in Los Angeles Superior Court before reaching a verdict in the steamy case that titillated the nation and rekindled the age-old debate about whether prostitution should be considered a crime.
After shifts of opinion -- and even some misgivings after they delivered their verdicts -- the jury convicted Fleiss, 28, the daughter of a prominent pediatrician, of three counts of pandering. It deadlocked on the other two counts and found her innocent of one count of supplying cocaine to an undercover police officer.
Judge Judith L. Champagne set a preliminary hearing on sentencing for Jan. 20.
Prosecutor Alan Carter said the verdict "demonstrates how wrong people have been about juries. There's been a lot of jury bashing," but this jury came to a reasonable verdict, he said.
However, the jury forewoman, Sheila Mitrowski, a 48-year-old phone company clerical worker, indicated there was a struggle over the verdicts.
When deliberations began Tuesday after a six-day trial, she said, the jury was split evenly on Fleiss's guilt. Mitrowski said she, along with three other women and two men, initially believed Fleiss should be acquitted.
Eventually, she said, jurors decided they could not entirely accept the reasoning of Fleiss's attorney, Anthony Brooklier, who contended Fleiss had been entrapped by police.
In the courtroom Fleiss dropped her head to the table when the second "guilty" verdict rang through the courtroom and sat slumped for a few moments. Then, as the third and final "guilty" was announced, she raised her head and slammed her hand on the table.
She sat grim-faced through the rest of the court proceedings, sighing at one point, throwing her head back at another. Her father, Paul Fleiss -- with whom she faces a federal court trial in January on related charges of money laundering and tax evasion -- hung his head.
Heidi Fleiss was indicted by a grand jury in September 1993 following a complex, multi-agency sting operation. Her arrest shook Hollywood, which instantly began to buzz with rumors -- never publicly verified -- that her clientele included entertainment industry officials.
The possibility that Fleiss's clients might be unveiled in her trial thrust the high school dropout into the national spotlight, transforming her virtually overnight into a celebrity, fare for tabloids as well as highbrow magazines.
Fleiss maintained her business for two years before running afoul of police, according to police surveillance tapes of her phone conversations. It abruptly ended when the 1993 undercover sting operation at a lavish Beverly Hills hotel suite resulted in her arrest. There, hidden cameras filmed the activities of four women dispatched by Fleiss to entertain four police officers posing as Japanese businessmen celebrating a deal.
The videos captured the women as they accepted $1,500 in $100 bills, discussed which sexual acts they were prepared to perform, and engaged in small talk as the officers pretended to speak Japanese.
In the months before Fleiss's trial for pandering, her problems grew. She was arrested in September after drug tests -- a term of her probation -- indicated she had used stimulants and depressants. As a result of those tests, she was assigned to a drug rehabilitation program, where she spent two months.
In federal court, she and her father were charged in August with money laundering, bank fraud and alleged conspiracy to hide the young woman's income from her prostitution ring. The daughter and father have pleaded not guilty. That trial may well unveil the identities of Fleiss's clients because many reportedly wrote checks to her from personal accounts.
After the jury convicted Fleiss today, prosecutor Carter said that because of her pending federal trial and a past bail violation, she should be remanded immediately or released on bail as high as $500,000.
Champagne instead set bail at $75,000, which Fleiss posted.