She prefers to be called the "Washington Madam" but insists that she is just an innocent businesswoman being victimized by the federal government because she was "sitting on a power keg of information" about the sexual peccadilloes of Washington's elite.
On Tuesday, Deborah Jeane Palfrey talked openly at Nathan's during one of the regular luncheon Q&As with the restaurant's owner, Carol Joynt.
The former law student said she's a conservative Democrat who ran a legal escort service here for 13 years. The government believes otherwise, insisting that Palfrey, who lives in the San Francisco area, was providing DC men with $300 an-hour prostitutes.
Joynt kept the conversation light, asking Palfrey why she had chosen to run her escort service—Pamela Martin & Assoc.—in the nation's capital. It wasn't because the men here are more "needy," Palfrey said. "It was either here or New York City....The men here are sophisticated, very cosmopolitan."
Palfrey has 10,000 names to prove it, which she plans to use in her legal defense. Among the thousands of names the government has are 25 that are recognizable, said Palfrey's attorney Montgomery Blair Sibley, who is representing her pro bono. But both refused to even give Joynt a "hostess present" of even just one name.
Dressed in a conservative grey pinstripe pantsuit accented by her red nail polish and red lipstick, Palfrey and her attorney regaled a packed lunchtime crowd who paid $35 a head for 30 minutes. After Palfrey, a last-minute addition, came scheduled guest, Peter Greenberg, the "Today" show's travel correspondent.
The government began proceedings against Palfrey last October, and indicted her in February. "Many people don't know that prostitution was legal until October 2006 when the civil forfeiture case was started against Jeane," said Sibley. "When you start getting into laws prohibiting sexual behavior in DC, you realize they are vague. There's a whole long list of behaviors you can get away with without your clothes on."
Joynt asked her about Randall L. Tobias, 65, who resigned as deputy secretary of state on April 27 after acknowledging he'd been a customer. "I haven't heard from Mr. Tobias," she said. "I don't remember him."
When pressed about who actually used her cash-only business, Palfrey sighed and said she hadn't been much interested in "who they were ID-wise as much as security-wise." Some did use their real names. Some even called from their homes. Usually her "independent contractors," as she calls the escorts, went to their homes or a hotel. Sometimes, though not often, the escorts would go to an office. "The girls weren't even curious who the men were," said Palfrey. "They respected their clients' privacy. Once in a while, I would hear: 'As soon as he opened the door, I recognized him. He was on the cover of....'"
For the last question, Joynt asked Palfrey if she had any advice for other madams. She did. Don't give up. "This is an aberrant situation," she said. "There's a lot about my story people don't know."
They'll have to wait for the book she intends to write some day.
After Palfrey and Sibley left Nathan's, a small flock of reporters followed them down Wisconsin Avenue peppering them with questions. Palfrey encouraged anyone who wanted to know more to check out long radio interviews where she tells her story on www.wsradio.com.
Perhaps tired of walking and talking, Palfrey decided to stop and answer questions. Coincidence or not, she stopped to talk in front of The Pleasure Palace, Georgetown's classy sexual toy shop.
As she talked, a white van drove by and a man yelled out: "You go girl!" She said that happens a lot.
And then she was off to a photo shoot for the August Vanity Fair.