(CBS/AP) A woman believed to be the one convicted of running a high-end prostitution ring in Washington was found dead Thursday of an apparent suicide, police said.
A body police believe to be 52-year-old Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found in a shed near her mother's mobile home Thursday morning in Tarpon Springs, about 20 miles northwest of Tampa. Police said she left a suicide note, but they did not disclose its contents or how she killed herself.
Palfrey was convicted April 15 by a federal jury of running a prostitution service that catered to members of Washington's political elite, including Sen. David Vitter, R-La. She had denied her escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.
She was convicted of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering.
But the trial concluded without revealing many new details about the service or its clients. Vitter was among possible witnesses, but did not take the stand.
Palfrey faced a maximum of 55 years in prison and was free pending her sentencing July 24.
One of the 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."
Prosecutors said Palfrey operated the prostitution service for 13 years.
Vitter, a first-term senator who is married and has four children, has acknowledged being involved with Palfrey's escort service and has apologized for what he called a "very serious sin." But he avoided commenting further.
Besides Vitter, the trial also concluded without the testimony of military strategist Harlan Ullman or Randall Tobias, a former senior State Department official. Both men had been named among possible witnesses.
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.
At trial, Palfrey's 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."
Burton did not return a telephone call and e-mail message.
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.
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