Thursday, May 1, 2008

A CONVENIENT DEATH

FEW DEATHS could cause as much relief in Washington as did the alleged suicide of DC Madam Deborah Jean Palfrey. One need only consider the rapid demise of Governor Eliot Spitzer after it was discovered he had used a similar escort service to realize that Palfrey was not welcomed by many of the capital's powerful men as a living repository of their sexual habits.

We are not speaking of a small number. Palfrey estimated her business involved some 10,000 clients - most in and around the most powerful city in America.

This is not to say that Palfrey did not commit suicide, only that her name may be reasonably added to those whose cause of death can not be - and may never be - firmly determined.

She will not be the first such death in recent American politics. At least nine persons involved in some way with the Clintons also committed suicide under less than certain circumstances, most notably Vincent Foster. Nearly 30 others also suffered from Arkansas sudden death syndrome, but clearly at someone else's hand.

What we do know about Palfrey is that her operation had some 10,000 male clients, and not one has been subject to legal prosecution. Two of the women involved, Jean Palfrey and Brandy Britton, both allegedly committed suicide and both by hanging. Palfrey indicated she didn't know whether Britton killed herself, saying, "There are many, many family members who say this was not the case." When radio host Alex Jones said to Palfrey in 2007, "And you're not planning to commit suicide," Palfrey responded, "And I'm not planning to commit suicide."

There is no apparent logic for the massive legal assault on Palfrey. In fact, prostitution isn't even a federal crime; she was charged under federal racketeering law. When her house was raided a year and a half ago, the swat squad went through everything but curiously ignored 46 boxes of information about her clients. Interestingly also, the attack began in earnest immediately after Palfrey had put her house on the market, closed her business, and transferred some money to Germany where she planned to retire. In fact, she was in Germany when US postal inspectors, pretending to be home buyers, illegally sought entrance into her house from a realtor without a warrant.

You add up the little pieces and it is clear that something much bigger than prostitution was involved. Was Palfrey being threatened because she had, in effect, decided to leave the mob taking along her many tales? Was she a bit player in some much larger blackmail operation? And did she end her life or did someone do it for her?

Our approach to such matters is to treat them as open cases. We do not presume a conspiracy, but neither do we accept the establishment's approach of rushing to the conclusion most comfortable to itself. In this case, for example, there are some 10,000 members of the establishment with a vested interest in not examining the evidence too much.

We do know that the Palfrey case was one of the strangest prosecutions the capital has ever seen. Judges, prosecutors, the media and the political elite all seemed extraordinarily determined to put a cap on how much information the case revealed. So far, they have been quite successful.

AP The body of Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found in a shed near her mother's home about 20 miles northwest of Tampa. Police said the 52-year-old Palfrey left at least two suicide notes and other writings to her family in a notebook, but they did not disclose their contents. Palfrey apparently hanged herself with nylon rope from the shed's ceiling. Her mother discovered the body. . . Blanche Palfrey had no sign that her daughter was suicidal, and there was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were involved, police Capt. Jeffrey Young said. . .

"I am sure as heck am not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, you know, four to eight years here, because I'm shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever," Palfrey told ABC last year when she released phone records that revealed some of her clients. "Not for a second. I'll bring every last one of them in if necessary."

Dan Moldea, a Washington writer who befriended Palfrey while considering writing a book about her, said she was cautiously optimistic about her trial, even when the case went before the jury. After the conviction, Moldea sent her an e-mail but didn't hear back. A week later, he said, he sent another note entitled "A Concerned Friend" asking whether she was OK. Again, he didn't hear back. After hearing of her death, he recalled a conversation over dinner last year when the subject of prison came up. "She said, 'I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first,'" Moldea said.

TIME Palfrey contacted Moldea last year to provide her help writing a book. "She had done time once before [for prostitution]," Moldea recalls. "And it damn near killed her. She said there was enormous stress - it made her sick, she couldn't take it, and she wasn't going to let that happen to her again." . . .

When a former employee of Palfrey's, Brandy Britton, hanged herself before going to trial, Palfrey told the press, "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."

Palfrey's trial, which concluded in mid-April with a conviction, is one of very few such cases prosecuted in the federal courts. Most prostitution violations are dealt with at the state or municipal level, and attract little publicity. In the Palfrey case, prosecutors obliged a string of obviously embarrassed clients and employees of the escort service to appear on the witness stand and testify under oath. Nearly all testified that they had engaged in sexual acts in exchange for money, a version of events that contradicted Palfrey's claims that she had been running a high-end sexual fantasy service - and that any actual sexual activity was against the rules, and clearly stated when employees were hired. . .

It was Palfrey's phone records that led to problems for prominent Washington figures once her prosecution got under way. She had thousands of pages, including 10,000 to 15,000 numbers of clients calling in to her California residence. Besides Sen. Vitter, others whose names appeared on those records included Randall Tobias, a senior State Department official in charge of foreign aid - who had publicly inveighed against prostitution and who quickly resigned after his name was made public. Harlan Ullman, a well-known military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, was also identified.

According to Moldea, who last year examined Palfrey's phone records and discovered the name of Vitter, a Republican, as a client of Palfrey's escort service - Pamela Martin & Associates - the last time he saw Palfrey in person was less than week before her conviction on prostitution charges on April 15. "A friend and I met with Jeanne and we had a sushi lunch near the courtroom," he said. "She was upbeat and hopeful. She felt the prosecution had not made the case and that she was going to walk. She was hopeful to the end." But, when the jury came in with her conviction, she reportedly was taken aback. "When I heard that I knew that, for her, it was all over. There is no question in my mind that she took her own life."

HUGH SPRUNT, CAS BB - [Palfrey] undertook a number of actions prior to her death that were not consistent with a despondent/depressed person contemplating suicide. . . She tried to get her hands on at least one stock investment (that was declining in value like many stocks these days) so she could sell it and reinvest the proceeds (The feds had seized her investments as security for her being able to pay any fine associated with her eventual criminal penalties that likely would include a lot of jail time). Her attorneys and at least some of the reporters who covered her story have stated that she didn't appear suicidal to them

TELEVISION INTERVIEW WITH DEBORAH JEAN PALFREY

RADIO INTERVIEW WITH DEBORAH JEAN PALFREY

BACK STORY

6 Comments:

At May 2, 2008 9:13 AM, Anonymous m said...

The only argument against murder is that she wasn't done away with at the very beginning of the story. It will be interesting to see if she left any information to be dispersed upon her untimely death.

 
At May 2, 2008 5:59 PM, Anonymous robbie said...

People would have to be awfully gullible to think that this woman committed suicide...

Oh, wait, what am I talking about?

 
At May 3, 2008 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And 'discovery documents' that are "sensitive": we are seeing more and more instances of this claim by State prosecutors. If the discovery documents are so sensitive as to be non-viewable just how can proof of activity be demonstrated to those outside the star chamber?

 
At May 5, 2008 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just show that the Americans have an incredibly silly attitude towards prostitution...

 
At May 5, 2008 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Postal Service wasn't the only ones trying to get into Ms. Palfrey's home illegally.

I am one of Ms. Palfrey's neighbors in Vallejo. In the summer of 2003 or 2004, I caught a couple of guys trying to push her front door open one evening. When they couldn't get in they went to her side window and tried to raise it. At that point I told them to stop and get out of here. They continued trying to get in, acting like they didn't hear me. As I approached I told them to get out of here or I'll call the police. One of the two clean cut business-casual dressed men told me they were the police. When asked for their badges they threatened me with arrest. At no time did they show a badge. Additionally, they did not look like the Vallejo PD. I left and called a friend on the Vallejo PD. He told me there were no VPD operations in the area.

It took 2 weeks to make contact with Ms. Palfrey to let her know about the incident. She did not seem concerned in the least, which I found unusual considering she lived alone.

 
At May 15, 2008 4:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her records need published. Without clients there was no business and she would be alive.

 

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