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'D.C. madam' kills herself in coastal Florida town

Friday, May 2, 2008

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. -- A woman convicted two weeks ago of being the "D.C. Madam" hanged herself Thursday, apparently making good on her vow never to go to prison for running a high-end Washington prostitution ring.

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 did not disclose their contents.

Palfrey apparently hanged herself with nylon rope from the shed's ceiling. Her mother discovered the body.

Officers were outside the mother's white and pink home in the community of mostly retirees.

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.

A man who answered a phone listed for Palfrey's mother declined to comment.

A federal jury convicted Palfrey on April 15 of running a prostitution service that catered to members of Washington's political elite. She was convicted of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering.

Palfrey had denied her escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.

The trial concluded without revealing many new details about the service or its clients. Vitter was among possible witnesses but did not take the stand.

Channing Phillips, the spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office in the District of Columbia, said that under sentencing guidelines, Palfrey faced about five or six years in prison. She was free while she awaited sentencing on July 24.

"I'm sure as heck not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone four to eight years, 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.

Prosecutors said Palfrey operated the prostitution service for 13 years.

Vitter, a first-term senator who is married and has four children, has acknowledged being involved with Palfrey's escort service and has apologized for what he called a "very serious sin." But he avoided commenting further.

Besides Vitter, the trial also concluded without the testimony of military strategist Harlan Ullman or Randall Tobias, a former senior State Department official. Both men had been named among possible witnesses.

One of the escort service employees was former University of Maryland, Baltimore County, professor Brandy Britton, who was arrested on prostitution charges in 2006. She committed suicide in January before she was scheduled to go to trial.

Palfrey said last year that she, too, was humiliated by her prostitution charges, but said: "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."


Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo in Washington and Matthew Barakat in McLean, Va., contributed to this report.


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