Apparently, the D.C. Madam trial isn’t about prostitution. It’s nothing to do with intercourse or sexually transmitted diseases — though both were mentioned, repeatedly, in opening statements yesterday.
On the contrary: “This case is about RICO,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Connolly. “It’s about money laundering.”
It’s about the mail, she said.
Prosecutors say Deborah Jeane Palfrey ran a prostitution ring from her home in Vallejo, Calif. Her escorts, using stage names like “Cindy” and “Stephanie,” met with men, charged about $250 for sex, and sent half the earnings to Palfrey in money orders, Connolly said.
For that, Palfrey is charged with federal racketeering and conspiracy money laundering. She faces up to 55 years in jail if convicted on all five counts.
“All you need to do is follow the mail. The crimes that are charged here are financial in nature,” Connolly said.
Then Connolly got back to the sex. Pointing to the witness stand, Connolly told the jury that it was “the hottest seat in D.C. this week, and possibly, the hottest seat in D.C. this year.”
It could prove searing for Sen. David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who admitted to a “very serious sin” last summer when his name turned up in Palfrey’s phone records. Or for Randall Tobias, the state department official who resigned last spring after ABC found his number in Palfrey’s little black book.
Both were named as potential witnesses to the defense yesterday. Not to mention more than a dozen of Palfrey’s former escorts “who sold sex to dozens and dozens of men,” and who will testify on behalf of the government, Connolly said.
Most would be appearing against their will, Connolly said.
Likening a racketeering enterprise to an octopus, Connolly said the only way to breakup the prostitution ring was to go after Palfrey, the head.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe's Preston Burton, Palfrey’s lawyer, said she was more like a taxicab dispatcher: Palfrey sent her escorts out and “what happens then is between the customer and the driver.”
Burton told the jury to consider the witnesses’ motivation — “None of those people is charged with so much as a parking ticket!” — and pointed out that in five years of investigating Pamela Martin & Associates, the government had not obtained any taped evidence of Palfrey’s alleged pandering.
Palfrey made her employees sign contracts, which stipulated that they would be fired for engaging in illegal sexual activities. Preston showed jurors a copy of the contract and said: "That's not what illegal businesses do."
He said Palfrey's clients were "by and large, educated people who knew when they were crossing the line." As to the ones who will have to testify, Burton said: "Their lives in many instances are going to be ruined."
Day two of Palfrey's trial began about 20 minutes ago.