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News analysis

'At the time of Jonathan Luna's vicious murder, known members of organized crime families in Pennsylvania and Maryland were attempting to get a piece of legalized slot machine gambling.'

IRS probe of alleged DC Madam began
one month after former MD state police head Ed Norris
copped lenient plea deal for sex and tax crimes

Sex scandal in DC and Maryland threatens Bush Administration and GOP

Will the sex scandal go international? Foreign diplomats and other dignitaries, we're told, for years have sought call girl and 'escort' services when visiting the U.S. capital.

Posted March 26, 2007-- The mid-Atlantic region is all a-titter over a spreading political sex scandal centered in Washington DC and Maryland.

The sex scandal threatens to add fuel to the growing firestorm consuming the Bush Administration and Republican supporters, already hobbled by political firings of U.S. attorneys, and outright corruption involving Jack Abramoff and other government contractors.

Simmering below deck for several years, the scandal overboiled in 2006, with the bi-coastal searches of the homes of two alleged purveyors of prostitution, Brandy Britton and Deborah Palfrey.

Britton, a Ph.D.-endowed sociologist who allegedly ran a prostitution business out of her home in suburban Ellicott City, Maryland, hung herself in January 2007, shortly before she was to stand trial. Her story had been the subject of extensive press coverage in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, and other outlets. The media hung an electronic scarlet letter on her. Britton's body, swinging in her foreclosed home, and a note, were discovered by her college-aged daughter.

A few days after Britton's suicide, alleged madam Deborah Palfrey wrote a remarkable email to Assistant U.S. Attorney William Cowden, warning the government about the bed they were all about to lie in concerning her own case.

"The press will have a field day at each of our expense," she wrote the federal prosecutor on February 1, 2007. "Unlike Ms. Britton ... I am a ferocious fighter when need be.... I can state with unequivocal certainty this situation will be a very long and unpleasant one."

Long and unpleasant. Sounds a lot like some marriages.

Palfrey further warned AUSA Cowden that she was being pursued by "a myriad of news organizations ... nationally AND internationally." Already, she complained, "tabloid rags" were all over her ass.

Poison pen letters : the late Brandy Britton (top) and Deborah Palfrey (bottom photo by David Y. Lee, copyright Atlas Press)

"As we all know though from life's adventures," Palfrey wrote on, "there is always a flip side to every coin and surely in time, this other side will be reported in the more legitimate press."

What's she talking about? What "legitimate press?" This is a Justice Department that thinks nothing of labeling writers criminals and jailing them. This is a media that for the most part has sat quietly by while the administration has tortured, kidnapped, and spied on its citizens.

A westcoaster, Palfrey obviously also doesn't understand the business-driven DC and Baltimore media, other than perhaps to buy advertisements from them, like the politicians do.

Or maybe she understands them all too well. Her possessions impounded and her bank accounts frozen by the feds, Palfrey soon threatened to sell 15,000 telephone records to pay for her legal defense. On her website she announced she'd serviced some 10,000 clients since 1993, and that her phone records consist of "46 pounds of detailed and itemized records."

On March 16, 2007, AUSA Cowden responded by obtaining a court order forbidding Palfrey from selling the phone records. Her attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, pointed out that nothing in the order prohibited him from freely distributing the records to news organizations. In fact, Sibley said, he'd already given the records to ABC News.

A longtime Washington DC political operative tells us he expects the DC/Maryland sex scandal to indeed go international. Foreign diplomats and other dignitaries, he says, for years have sought call girl and "escort" services when visiting the U.S. capital.

It appears that neither Palfrey nor her attorney Sibley understand what's driving her case, nor the depths of the media depravity and public corruption in Maryland, DC, and Pennsylvania, under the Bush administration. How do they all sleep? We're beginning to get some idea.

'Some bigwig client who got caught up in something'

The government alleges that Palfrey ran her business from afar in California, by phone, and by taking money orders through the mail. She owns homes in California and Florida.

Palfrey's attorney Sibley is a Florida-based forfeiture lawyer.

In an interview with the website in October 2006, Palfrey wondered aloud why she'd been targeted after more than a dozen years in business.

"Palfrey did speculate that she may have come to the attention of federal agents because her operation had somehow intersected with a more high profile case, like that of convicted ex-congressman Randy 'Duke' Cunningham," the website relates. "Investigators are reportedly examining charges that a defense contractor provided hookers to Cunningham as part of an influence-peddling scheme. Palfrey did not claim a nexis between her escort service and Cunningham, but invoked the disgraced pol's name while saying that she would wager that the basis for the federal probe of her business 'had solely to do with some Duke Cunningham-type bigwig client that got caught up in something and started to say, 'Do you know this?' and 'Do you know that?' And that he might have been able to lead them to somebody."

Congressman Cunningham, a law-and-order, "family values" Republican from California, was accused of taking at least $2.4 million in bribes from four defense contractors. He resigned from Congress in November 2005, and received an eight-year jail sentence in 2006.

Hunka hunka burnin' luv: Congressman Duke Cunningham (top) entertained women aboard a yacht while wearing pajama bottoms and turtle neck sweaters, all the while sipping chilled champagne beside his favorite lava lamp. Former Maryland State Police Superintendant Ed Norris (bottom) had his police protection unit chauffeur mysterious women to hotels and other rendevous spots.

One of the defense contractors accused of bribing Rep. Cunningham was Mitchell Wade, of MZM, Inc. In February 2006, Wade pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Shortly thereafter newspaper accounts reported that the owner of a limousine service, and others, were under investigation for providing Cunningham with hookers.

The limousine provider, himself a government contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, was alleged to keep contacts with an escort service. The limousine service would pick up Cunningham and the prostitutes, and drive them to Washington DC hotels, including the Watergate, investigators allege.

Rep. Cunningham also was said to have entertained women aboard a Washington DC-berthed yacht, called "Duke Sir." Congressman Cunningham would entertain the women aboard the yacht while wearing pajama bottoms and turtle neck sweaters, all the while sipping chilled champagne beside his favorite lava lamp. It just doesn't get any better than that!

The problem with's attempt to link Rep. Cunningham to her arrest is that court records show that the federal case against the alleged madam began in 2004, a year or more before Rep. Cunningham's quick fall.

Allegations against Cunningham didn't surface until June 2005, when two news services reported that a defense contractor with ties to the congressman had taken a loss of $700,000 to buy one of the congressman's houses.

Madam Palfrey, by this time, had already been under investigation for a year.

It seems more likely that Palfrey's downfall may have intersected with another "high profile case" involving "some bigwig." Not in DC, but in Baltimore. But who?

Draft federal court documents graciously leaked to the smokinggun website reveal that Baltimore IRS special agent Tony Burris began his investigation of Madam Palfrey in June 2004.

This was only a few weeks after Maryland State Police Superintendent Ed Norris copped a plea deal and was given a light six-month jail term.

Norris had, a few months earlier, on December 10, 2003, been indicted for, among other things, using his police Executive Protective Unit (EPU) to ferry women of mysterious origins around to various locations, including a Baltimore hotel room, while Norris served as Baltimore's police commissioner. The indictment describes what it calls "romantic encounters" between Commissioner Norris and a number of anonymous women.

Helping Norris with all this was his right hand man, chief of staff John Stendrini. The indictment reads, "Norris and Stendrini routinely caused EPU members to transport Norris and female companions, including Female #1, Female #2, Female #3, Female #4, Female #5, and Female #6 in connection with romantic encounters at private residences and other locations in the Baltimore City area, including Stendrini's apartment in Baltimore City, and in New York City and elsewhere.

"Numerous EPU members and several women would have testified that Mr. Stendrini allowed Mr. Norris to use his apartment at the Redwood apartment building for romantic encounters -- refered to by Mr. Norris as 'naps' -- often during the workday, and sometimes several times per day.

"Norris and Stendrini routinely caused EPU members to earn overtime pay while waiting for Norris at residences and other locations during these romantic encounters."

'Keep in mind that not even elite, top cops can run a sex ring or a brothel by themselves, not when they also have everyday, mundane distractions to occupy their time, like running the police department and upholding the law. That's why it helps to have associates in the industry, to help with the supply of women.'

Where was the money coming from to pay for all this? Obscure Baltimore police department charity accounts....

In March 2004, a few months after the filing of his original indictment, Norris, still fighting the charges against him, was hit with three additional tax charges for falsifying his income to the IRS.

That's when the Baltimore IRS office got involved.

Norris accepted a plea deal in May 2004. He and Stendrini were sentenced on June 21, 2004, about the same time Baltimore IRS agent Burris began looking at Madam Palfrey.

According to his indictment, Police Commissioner Norris at one point worried he'd been spotted with an unidentified woman in the Baltimore Hyatt Hotel in December 2001. He'd sent Stendrini and other Baltimore police department personnel back to the hotel to look for video surveillance cameras.

At the time of Norris's indictment and sentencing, it was revealed that some of Norris's underlings (and, later, Norris and Stendrini themselves, judging from their light sentences) had turned state's evidence in the case.

It's long been supposed that darker forces were behind Norris's so-called "romantic encounters" with the dozen or so mystery women.

"Keep in mind that not even elite, top cops can run a sex ring or a brothel by themselves, not when they also have everyday, mundane distractions to occupy their time, like running the police department and upholding the law," Bill Keisling wrote in The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna. "That's why it helps to have associates in the industry, to help with the supply of women."

'A dozen or so close personal friends'

Norris, for his part, tells writer Keisling that the women were his "personal friends," and not professionals.

Norris's December 2003 indictment came just a few days after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna vanished from his desk at the Baltimore federal courthouse around midnight, on December 3, 2003.

The next morning Luna was found viciously murdered in a stream off the Pennsylvania turnpike in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His genitals had been damaged. The public was told he'd used his ATM card to withdraw $200 shortly before his death. The camera in the bank machine mysteriously provided no photos of the transaction.

Nor have we seen any footage of Luna leaving the federal courthouse in Baltimore. Nor of him driving his car. Or buying gas.

"It's remarkable: In an age when cameras are everywhere, there's no pictures or video of Jonathan's travels on his last night?" one former prosecutor acquainted with Luna points out to us.

North by Northeast: web headlines days after Luna's murder hinted at lurid sex crimes (click here or on picture to enlarge)

In the days immediately following Luna's death, the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, among other media corporations embedded with the Bush Administration, suggested that Luna's murder was the result of an encounter with a prostitute. This supposed information, they reported, had come from "unnamed law enforcement sources."

In Lancaster, where Luna's tortured body was found, hotel records were scoured for proof of paid infidelities, the newspapers even reported. It's always fun to hear whores talking about other whores.

A year to the day after Luna's murder, his former boss, U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio, was forced to resign. In early March 2007, DiBiagio called in a New York Times reporter to say he believed he'd been forced from his job because he'd been investigating alleged ties between gambling proponents and staff members working for former Maryland Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. DiBiagio said he felt his life at one point was threatened during the curtailed investigation, but that the FBI refused to protect him.

While the police-congressmen-contractor sex scandal has received lots of play in the DC and Maryland media, its tendrils have quietly stretched north into Pennsylvania, and south into Virginia.

In December 2004, Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) asked Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller to investigate long-standing allegations unearthed by two concerned York, PA city officials that a Pennsylvania turnpike security contractor had alleged ties to a well-heeled prostitution ring run by individuals associated with the York County Courthouse. Col. Miller refused to properly investigate.

The security provider, Russell Wantz of the Schaad Detective Agency, of York, in 2006 sought to have The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna banned. In an ensuing federal court deposition, York City Controller and former newspaper editor James Sneddon repeated additional allegations that Pennsylvania State Police troopers had themselves received sex acts from the prostitutes. With this they had something in common with officials in DC and Maryland.

In Pennsylvania, at the time, as in Maryland, known members of organized crime families were attempting to get a piece of legalized slot machine gambling.

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Ed Norris? They're receiving paychecks from CBS to host radio programs in Baltimore. Something for Madam Palfrey and her lawyer to think about while they're passing out those phone records to what she calls in her email "legitimate" news organizations.

It's a good thing no one in the Bush administration or its handmaiden corporate media has been listening to the public or concerned officials for the past six years, or they might reasonably worry they're in for a world of trouble.

External links

Deborah Palfrey website

Brandy Britton website

Brandy's back: Blogger's webpage

Really desperate housewife: Blogger's webpage

Congressman Duke Cunningham timeline

York, PA courthouse sex ring video

Ignored PA turnpike security problems video