In what has been touted as the biggest sex scandal to rock the District in the past decade, the “DC Madam” was back in the news this summer due to recent events relating to the solicitation organization’s phone records.
The DC Madam’s Prostitution Business
Deborah Jeane Palfrey, dubbed the “DC Madam” by the press, ran a high-end DC prostitution operation called “Pamela Martin & Associates.” The business was targeted toward the affluent men who resided and worked in the District. The solicitation clients, who included Washington elite and prominent residents, were promised complete discretion and anonymity.
Pamela Martin & Associates was in business for thirteen years. In that time, the business made over two million dollars from its solicitation services, with each escort bringing in approximately three hundred dollars an hour. Half of the money made by the escort was mailed to Palfrey, who resided in California.
Vanity Fair reported in 2008 that Palfrey had required her employees at Pamela Martin & Associates to dress professionally in sensible heels and non-flashy jewelry, to be punctual, and to refrain from alcohol and drugs while meeting with solicitation clients. Further, each of the employees of the prostitution business had to be over twenty-three years old, have college degrees, and have day jobs. Records determined that, among the escorts, there was: a secretary from the corporate law firm Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld, a financial consultant, a real-estate agent, and a former professor from the University of Maryland.
Police Bust the DC Prostitution Organization
Court records indicate that law enforcement officials began investigating Palfrey’s business in 2004. In October 2006, the United States Postal Service Inspection Service froze her bank accounts, and law enforcement officials searched her properties and seized documents relating to prostitution charges and money laundering.
Palfrey was tried in U.S. District Court on federal charges arising from her prostitution business. The initial charges against her brought a sentence of a maximum of fifty-five years in prison. At Palfrey’s trial, thirteen former escorts and three former clients were compelled to testify against her after being granted immunity by the government.
At trial, the federal court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the determination that she was running an illegal prostitution business. She was convicted on April 15, 2008 with charges that brought a maximum sentence of five to six years.
Two weeks after her conviction, Palfrey committed suicide by hanging outside of her mother’s mobile home in Florida. Her death resulted in the vacating of her conviction.
2007 Release of Prostitution Records
Prior to her conviction, Palfrey and her attorney released four months of the organization’s phone records to ABC News. The released records outed solicitation clients like pentagon advisor Harlan Ullman, Secretary of State deputy Randall Tobias, and Senator David Vitter.
Soon after the release of these records in 2007, the court imposed a restraining order preventing Palfrey and her attorneys from releasing any further phone records from the DC solicitation business. This restraining order also pertains to subpoenaed records from Verizon Wireless, which provided Palfrey and her attorney with the names, addresses, and social security numbers of the account holders for 817 of the phone numbers that called the prostitution ring.
DC Madam in Recent News
Recently, Palfrey’s former attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, has brought the DC Madam’s prostitution ring back in the news. Sibley, who has been called an “eccentric litigator,” recently filed a motion in U.S. District Court in DC requesting the lifting of the 2007 restraining order. That motion contains the names of 174 of the entities that Sibley claims called the prostitution business from 2000-2006. The list of organizations includes: the archdiocese, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Commerce, the Department of State, the Embassy of Japan, Hewlett-Packard, Washington Gas, several large law firms, and many other organizations and businesses.
Sidley says that he wishes to release the full records now because they are relevant to the upcoming 2016 presidential election. He claims that keeping the Verizon Wireless records from the public view deprives him of his constitutional First Amendment right of publication. The United States District Court denied his request on the basis that Sibley, who has since been suspended from practicing law, had no legal right to hold the solicitation business’s records because Palfrey had fired him prior to her trial. In response, Sibley filed a personal lawsuit against both the former Chief Judge and the Chief Judge’s clerk for one million dollars each for failing to file his motion to lift the restraining order. Sibley also appealed to the United States Supreme Court, who denied his application.
It is unlikely that even DC will ever see a story as salacious as that of the DC Madam’s solicitation ring. There is nothing that DC likes more than the combination of prostitution, politics, and scandal. It is therefore not surprising that it continues to resurface in the news every few years. As it looks like the Supreme Court has put this recent request to bed, it will be interesting to see how it resurfaces next.