'DC Madam' commits suicide while awaiting jail sentence

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The Independent US

The woman known as the DC Madam, who was convicted of running a high-end prostitution ring in the United States capital, committed suicide in Florida yesterday.

Police said the body of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 52, was discovered in a shed near her mother's home and that a suicide note had also been found. Ms Palfrey was awaiting sentencing for running a call-girl ring over the phone from her home in California.

After a swirl of publicity a year ago, Ms Palfrey was convicted on 15 April by a jury in a federal court of running a prostitution service for Washington's political elite.

Several high-ranking officials were named as her clients, including Harlan Ullman, the former naval officer who devised the military doctrine called Shock and Awe, and the Republican Senator David Vitter.

Mr Vitter, a first-term senator who is married and has four children, apologised for what he called a "very serious sin".

Ms Palfrey had said she used college-educated women to indulge her customers' fantasies through "quasi-sexual" game-playing. One of her employees was a former University of Maryland sociology professor named Brandy Britton who committed suicide in January before she was scheduled to go to trial.

Ms Palfrey, who came across as the epitome of the demure businesswoman, with her dark hair, navy suit and horn-rimmed spectacles said she too was humiliated by the prostitution charges. But she added: "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."

In court, Ms Palfrey denied her escort service engaged in prostitution and said it was merely "a high-end erotic fantasy service". If any of the women she employed engaged in sex acts for money, she was unaware of it.

Because she conducted her business across state lines, Ms Palfrey was tried in federal court. She faced a maximum of 55 years in prison for money laundering, and racketeering convictions, but would actually have served four years. Her trial concluded without revealing many new details about its prominent clients.

Ms Palfrey ran her business, Pamela Martin & Associates, by telephone from her California home, and authorities said she made $2m from 1993 to 2006, dividing the money evenly with her escorts. She dispatched the women to clients in hotel rooms and flats across Washington. She was convicted of running a prostitution ring in California 17 years ago and spent 18 months in jail.

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