Glamour 'madam' wows the court

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - Grinning broadly, Heidi Fleiss swept into a court in Los Angeles yesterday to claim that she was not guilty of running a high-price prostitution ring for Hollywood stars, writes Phil Reeves.

Surrounded by a scrum of photographers and burly police officers, the 27-year-old doctor's daughter arrived in a black BMW wearing an outfit she had been planning for days - dark glasses, a shortish biege dress and two- inch high heels.

In the court was her close friend Victoria Sellers, daughter of the late Peter Sellers, and another friend, Bo Money. Ms Money said the alleged madam - who arrived 45 minutes late - was a 'great girl' who had been made a prisoner in her luxury dollars 1.6m ( pounds 1m) home by the media.

In a courtroom where reporters outnumbered the legal profession by four to one, Ms Fleiss entered a plea of innocence, through her lawyer, to five prostitution-related charges and one of possessing 13 grams of cocaine for sale or transportation. If convicted, she faces 11 years imprisonment - although she has said she would sooner die than live behind bars.

The proceedings have given rise to intense interest in Los Angeles, a city with a well-developed gossip machine. The bars and restaurants of Beverly Hills have been seething with speculation about Ms Fleiss's alleged activities as the operator of a high-class prostitution ring, patronised by movie moguls, stars and top businessmen. One senior studio official from Columbia Pictures and the rock star Billy Idol issued statements denying they used Ms Fleiss's services.

Abraham Khan, municipal court judge, scheduled a hearing for 10 September which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full trial. He denied a prosecution request that her bail bond of dollars 100,000, be increased to dollars 135,000.

Powerful Hollywood figures have reportedly been anxiously watching events, fearful that their names may be released publicly. That anxiety is beginning to ease. The Los Angeles Police Department says it does not intend to pursue the men allegedly listed in Ms Fleiss's little black book.