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911 tapes released in D.C. Madam's death

Friday - 5/2/2008, 3:38pm  ET

AP: d51b556b-deb3-4c07-bac4-389d1cfbd5a6
In this March 9, 2007 file photo Deborah Jeane Palfrey reads a statement outside federal court in Washington. A woman police believe to be convicted Washington escort service operator Palfrey committed suicide, officials said Thursday May 1, 2008. Palfrey faced a maximum of 55 years in prison and was free pending her sentencing July 24. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
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WASHINGTON - The 911 tapes have been released in the alleged suicide of D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, convicted of running a high-end prostitution ring in Washington.

Palfrey was found hanged in a shed near her mother's Florida home Thursday morning. Police say Palfrey's mother, Blanche, found the body and called 911. (To listen to the tape, click the play button in the left-hand column)

At 10:52 a.m., police in Tarpon Springs, Fla. arrived at the Sun Valley Mobile Home Park, about 20 miles northwest of Tampa. Police discovered the body of 52-year-old Palfrey in a storage shed outside the home.

Blanche Palfrey began searching for Palfrey after she awoke from a nap and could not find her daughter, who was staying with her. She went into the shed after noticing a tricycle normally kept inside the shed had been moved, police said. She immediately called 911.

Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue pronounced Palfrey dead at 11:01 a.m. The Pinellas County Medical Examiners Office will conduct an autopsy.

Police said there are multiple handwritten suicide notes, but have not disclosed the contents.

Authorities said Blanche last spoke to her daughter earlier that morning, telling Deborah she planned to take a quick nap.

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

Erwin Matthews, 73, who lives five houses down from Palfrey's mother, said he and his girlfriend heard Blanche Palfrey screaming around 10:30 a.m.

"She said: 'My daughter's hanging there by herself,'" Matthews recalled. "That's when everybody went running over there. This is a real bad tragedy."

On several occasions, Palfrey told WTOP she'd be damned if federal prosecutors convicted her and said she considered any jail time a life sentence.

Federal prosecutors in D.C. and the FBI have been notified of Palfrey's death.

Ironically, Palfrey's death means her conviction will ultimately be wiped from court records.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, tells WTOP typically in cases in which a defendant is convicted but dies before sentencing, prosecutors file a motion to abate the prosecution, along with a notice of suggestion of death, which results in court records of the conviction being vacated.

Palfrey's lawyers are reacting to news of her death.

"This is a tragic news and my heart goes out to her mother," defense attorney Preston Burton said.

Montgomery Blair Sibley, who served for a time as Palfrey's civil attorney, said he was shocked.

"I'm personally devastated by this. All I can do is mourn the tragic loss of her life," he said.

Palfrey was convicted on April 15 of racketeering and money laundering charges for running a prostitution ring that catered to Washington's elite, including Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), former senior State Department official Randall Tobias, and military strategist Harlan Ullman.

Throughout her trial in U.S. District Court, Palfrey maintained her company, Pamela Martin & Associates, provided legal escort services and catered to adult fantasies to 15,000 customers from 1993 until 2006.

After Palfrey was convicted, prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge James Robertson to immediately put Palfrey behind bars, arguing that the verdict was a motive for her to flee. Judge Roberston denied the request, noting that Palfrey has never missed a court appearance.

The trial was the first time federal prosecutors in D.C. used federal racketeering statutes in a prostitution case.

Palfrey was scheduled to be sentenced on July 24. She faced a maximum of 55 years in prison.

One of Palfery's 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.

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

In July 2007, Palfrey and her attorney at the time, Montgomery Blair Sibley, released what she called "46 pounds of phone records" from her business. Earlier that year, Palfrey had considered selling her telephone records to help pay for her legal defense.

At the time, Palfrey said in an email to WTOP that she was reluctant to release the information.

"I take no pleasure in being forced to reveal the identities of the clients and women of the service," Palfrey said.

Most of Palfrey's assets were frozen by federal authorities, in October 2006, after an IRS investigation.

Despite her legal woes, Palfrey remained proud of her business.

"I ran a first-rate firm, with top quality associates patronized by some of the best people in this country as well as many internationally. I am quite proud of the business I ran and the ethical manner which it was conducted for almost a decade and a half period."

In 1991, Palfrey was convicted for operating an illegal prostitution business in California and served 18 months in prison.

(Copyright 2008 by WTOP and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)