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Woman convicted of running Washington prostitution service

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April 15, 2008 04:04 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — A federal jury convicted a woman Tuesday of running a prostitution service that catered to members of Washington's political elite.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 52, sighed as the verdict was read. She had repeatedly denied the escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.

Palfrey caused a sensation last year when she announced that to raise money for her defense, she intended to sell her phone records to any news outlet willing to pay. Palfrey said her defunct business, Pamela Martin & Associates, was "a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service" that serviced elite clients.

She was convicted on all counts she faced: Money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering.

Three of Palfrey's clients testified during the weeklong trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, explaining how they found the service, how often they called, what they were hoping for and whether they got it during their visits.

"When a man agrees to pay $250 for 90 minutes with a woman, what do most men expect in that time?" prosecutor Daniel Butler said during closing arguments Monday. "In that context, it's pretty clear. Most men want sex."

But the trial concluded without revealing many new details about the service or its clients. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was among possible witnesses, but did not take the stand.

Vitter has acknowledged being involved with Palfrey's escort service. But after issuing brief statements apologizing for "a very serious sin," he has avoided follow-up questions.

Harlan Ullman, a military strategist who created the concept of "shock and awe" that the United States used to open hostilities against Iraq, also did not testify. Palfrey says Ullman was a regular client; Ullman has declined to discuss what he has called "outrageous allegations." Randall L. Tobias, who resigned as a deputy secretary of state after acknowledging to ABC News that he used Palfrey's service for massages, also did not testify.

Defense attorney Preston Burton argued that what went on during appointments was between the client and the escort. He compared Palfrey to a taxi dispatcher, who shouldn't be penalized for "the route the cab driver took."

Palfrey, who faces a maximum of 55 years in prison, will remain free pending her sentencing July 24.

Prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge James Robertson to lock Palfrey up immediately, arguing that the verdict gives her a motive to flee. But the judge noted that Palfrey has never missed a court appearance.