From a television studio that doubles as a gilded cage, an imperious blonde offers salvation to stricken children, metes out reality TV justice to philandering husbands and drug addicts and defiantly demands freedom for herself.
Laura Bozzo, host of the Jerry Springer-like show "Laura," has been under house arrest in the studio for more than two years, awaiting trial on charges she took jewelry and $3 million in bribes to support Alberto Fujimori's disgraced autocracy.
Her afternoon Spanish-language show offers tales of incest, infidelity, teen pregnancy and prostitution to the "oohs," "ahhhs," hoots and whistles of the studio audience. The NBC Telemundo networks transmit it five days a week to some 9 million U.S. viewers and millions more in 16 Latin American countries, though not to Peru, where it was canceled following Bozzo's arrest in 2002.
Now in her fifth season with Telemundo, in a $2.5 million studio equipped with luxury living quarters, Bozzo, 53, insists her prosecution is going nowhere and that she should be freed. She says her only crime was publicly singing Fujimori's praises in the months before his fraud-filled re-election in 2000.
She maintains she is being prosecuted because her program revealed that Fujimori's ultimately victorious opponent, Alejandro Toledo, had an illegitimate teenage daughter.
"Laura Bozzo is a prisoner because at one point she stupidly defended a girl who was not recognized by her father," Bozzo said, speaking in the third person. "If because of my fight for that child who is now recognized I have to go to jail . . . I'll go to jail."
She could get seven years, and says she plans to take her case to the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
But politics are the least of it when the cameras roll. In a recently taped segment, Erma, who prostitutes herself to cover the medical bills for her 12-year-old son's heart defect, confronts Gregorio, a customer-turned-boyfriend who is two-timing her with Carolina, whose little girl has a deformed skull.
Both women are shown a hidden video exposing Gregorio as a married man. His wife is brought onstage, and the three women slap, scratch and pull at Gregorio, and each other, until Bozzo re-establishes order. Black-shirted bouncers throw Gregorio off the set and Bozzo offers to pay for the children's surgery.
"Always, I mete out punishment," Bozzo said in an interview. "On the program, I feel we provide justice. The people feel that we provide justice."
Some question the validity of the case against Bozzo. Luis Lamas, a lawyer and legal analyst, says she is being prosecuted because of her public support for Fujimori and his shadowy spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now in jail. Fujimori lives in exile in Japan.
"She, to some measure, was the symbol of the old regime. The justice system isn't impartial, as it should be," Lamas said. "I think there is a clear intention to do whatever is necessary to condemn her."
The state attorney's office handling Bozzo's prosecution did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
More than a thousand people were implicated in Montesinos's illicit activities and face trial. Bozzo's former bosses -- TV executives now holed up in Argentina fighting extradition -- were among dozens secretly videotaped by Montesinos as they took wads of cash to toe a pro-Fujimori line. Montesinos dictated the content of the station's newscasts and, on occasion, the topics of Bozzo's show.
But the evidence against Bozzo isn't all that clear.
The army general accused of buying her a $20,000 necklace and bracelet at Montesinos's behest committed suicide. In a signed letter that authorities have yet to determine is authentic, the general allegedly wrote he was pressured by Toledo's government to falsely implicate Bozzo.
The star witness, a former Montesinos confidante, Matilda Pinchi Pinchi, swore Bozzo received $3 million in six installments. But according to Bozzo's attorney, Pinchi Pinchi testified in a pre-trial hearing that she only heard about the payment and never saw Bozzo receive a penny.
"There is no receipt, no video. There is nothing to corroborate Matilda Pinchi Pinchi's word," Bozzo said.
Bozzo never concealed her fondness for Montesinos as he masterminded Fujimori's re-election effort, blowing him kisses on the air. She also wrote him letters, later uncovered by investigators, lauding the attacks on Toledo and other candidates.
"Vladimiro, I sent you the cookies you like and some chocolates. I hope the next time I see you, you're not skinny," one letter said.
A love affair? She steadfastly denies it. "I wrote him letters. I blew him kisses. I can keep blowing kisses until I'm blue in the face," said Bozzo. "Where's the crime?"