- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2007

A federal judge ruled yesterday that a former escort service owner cannot sell phone records and other documents that could be used to publicly identify thousands of her clients.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 50, of California, has said she planned to sell the list of up to 15,000 client phone numbers and other records to a news organization to help raise money for her defense.

Miss Palfrey was indicted two weeks ago on charges that she ran a prostitution business involving 132 women in the District from her home in California for 13 years before it closed in August.

Following her arraignment in U.S. District Court last week, Miss Palfrey insisted that her business was a “legal, high-end erotic fantasy” service, known as Pamela Martin & Associates, that operated without incident and required women to sign contracts and follow guidelines ensuring that they would not engage in illegal sexual practices.

Miss Palfrey’s civil attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, said yesterday he does not think the judge’s order bars him from distributing copies of the phone records for free.

Mr. Sibley said it’s a moot point because he has already given copies of the records to an undisclosed news organization. Mr. Sibley said the original records are preserved and nothing he has done will prevent prosecutors from inspecting all the materials.

Federal prosecutors said that the prostitution ring yielded $2 million in assets, including cash and homes.

In October, the federal government froze the assets after a 21/2-year investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.

Miss Palfrey is suing to have the assets returned.

Miss Palfrey had announced plans to sell off more than a decade’s worth of customer phone records so she can hire an attorney to represent her in the criminal case.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a restraining order against Miss Palfrey and ordered her not to sell any company records or assets.

The judge set a hearing on the issue for Monday.

Mr. Sibley has said there were a dozen serious bidders for the 40 pounds of phone records.

The bidders ranged from “checkbook journalists to the gold standard of American journalism,” Mr. Sibley said. Attorneys for people who fear their names will become public also have been after the records, he said.

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