The trial of the D.C. Madam promised to be steamy and sensational, and it did in fact begin in a blaze of publicity that promised big names.
That publicity was stoked by the madam herself, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who first tried to auction off her phone records — the feds had seized her other records — and, after the judge intervened, she turned them over to ABC News.
ABC News said they turned up a number of military officials, CEOs, academics, lawyers and lobbyists, people who in general were important but not famous. Palfrey herself described her clients as “vanilla.”
There were three famous — famous for Washington, at least — names on the witness list, a deputy secretary of State, a senior consultant at a defense think tank responsible for the concept of “shock and awe” and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. None were called to testify.
But 13 of Palfrey’s escorts did have to testify in humiliating detail about what they did for $250 an hour, which they split with the madam. They included a woman with a doctorate and a Navy lieutenant commander and generally seem to have gotten into prostitution at a troubled time in their lives and almost just as quickly left it. As The Washington Post put it, the trial generated “more winces than thrills.”
Palfrey claims she was running “a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service” and that for 13 years she was unaware her employees were exchanging sex for money. The jury didn’t believe her and Tuesday convicted Palfrey, 52, of prostitution-related racketeering charges for which she faces four to six years in prison.
In the end, it wasn’t sensational or even particularly sordid, just kind of sad.