Prostitution case likely to rock Washington

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Deborah Jeane Palfrey has not been at all shy about it: For more than a decade, she ran an escort service that catered to upscale clients in the nation's capital, sending college-educated women to men's homes or hotel rooms.

For about $300, she promised 90 minutes of what she has described as a discreet "legal high-end erotic fantasy service." But the discreet part was over after federal authorities charged her with operating a prostitution ring.

"The tentacles of this matter reach far, wide and high into the echelons of power in the United States," Palfrey wrote in a court filing last month, as she prepared to release a list of her clients' telephone numbers and vowed to subpoena her customers - some of whom she described as prominent Washington officials.

That defense strategy had its first casualty Friday.

Randall L. Tobias, the top foreign aid adviser in the State Department, became the most prominent person on the list to be publicly identified when he resigned after acknowledging to ABC News that he was among Palfrey's clients. The State Department's statement on Tobias' resignation said simply, "He is returning to private life for personal reasons."

ABC News reported that Tobias told the network Thursday that he had called Pamela Martin and Associates - Palfrey's business - for massage services, not for sex.

Tobias, 65, is a former chairman and chief executive of Eli Lilly & Co. and of AT&T; International. He was chairman of the board of Duke University from 1997 to 2000 and has also been a major donor to various Republican campaigns.

Tobias, who was the director of foreign assistance and the administrator of the Agency for International Development, ran agencies that required foreign recipients of AIDS assistance to explicitly condemn prostitution, a policy that drew protests from some nations and relief organizations. Bush administration officials declined to comment further yesterday. Tobias did not respond to telephone messages left at his home and office Friday and yesterday.

Tobias is the third prominent Washington figure to be identified as among Palfrey's clients. She has identified an adviser to the Pentagon as "one of the regular customers." She included in a court filing and posted on her Web site the man's photo and tax records.

Dick Morris, the television commentator and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who resigned in 1996 after reports that he was seeing a prostitute, also was a customer, Palfrey's lawyer has said in court. Morris has denied the accusation.

Palfrey's business, which operated from 1993 to 2006, had 15,000 customers, she said in one court filing.

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