- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WASHINGTON — A federal jury convicted Deborah Jeane Palfrey today of running a high-end prostitution ring whose clients included members of Washington’s political elite.

Palfrey, who was found guilty of racketeering and money laundering, sighed as the verdict was announced in a federal courtroom.

Palfrey, 52, repeatedly denied the escort service she ran for 13 years, Pamela Martin & Associates, engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.

She caused a sensation last year when she announced that to raise money for her defense, she intended to sell her phone records to any news outlet willing to pay. Palfrey said her defunct business was “a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service” catering to clients “from the more refined walks of life here in the nation’s capital.”

The weeklong trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia included the testimony of 13 former escorts, most of whom said that Palfrey was careful not to talk about prostitution explicitly. But the women said they often discussed the subject with Palfrey in veiled terms.

Three of Palfrey’s clients also testified, explaining how they found the service, how often they called, what they were hoping for and whether they got it during their visits.

“When a man agrees to pay $250 for 90 minutes with a woman, what do most men expect in that time?” prosecutor Daniel Butler said during closing arguments yesterday. “In that context, it’s pretty clear. Most men want sex.”

Defense attorney Preston Burton argued that what went on during the appointments was between the client and the escort. He compared Palfrey to a taxi dispatcher, who shouldn’t be penalized for “the route the cab driver took.”

The escorts signed a contract promising not to break the law, Burton told jurors during the trial, and the clientele was made of up “educated people who know when they’re crossing the line.”

The trial concluded without the testimony of two prominent men linked to the case: Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who has publicly apologized to constituents for what he called a “very serious sin”; and Randall L. Tobias, who resigned as a deputy secretary of state after acknowledging to ABC News that he used Palfrey’s service for massages.

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