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Hollywood Madam

The Los Angeles prostitution prosecution and conviction of Heidi Fleiss, dubbed the Hollywood Madam by the press, raised issues that went beyond the sensational elements of the case. Feminist groups criticized Los Angeles prosecutors for continuing the familiar pattern of targeting female prostitutes while ignoring their male customers.

Heidi Fleiss, the daughter of a prominent California pediatrician and a schoolteacher, was arrested in June 1993 for running an expensive call-girl business. Fleiss was charged with pandering, or providing prostitutes to customers. It was alleged that seventy women worked for her and that her clients included Hollywood actors, U.S. politicians, and rich foreign businessmen.

The tabloid press had made Fleiss a minor celebrity before her arrest by occasionally discussing her and publishing photographs of her. Her notoriety led the Los Angeles police to conduct a "sting" operation, in which an officer posed as a customer, hiring prostitutes at a rate of $1,500 each for a supposed party. When the women arrived for the party, they and Fleiss were arrested.

In the months that followed, titillating details emerged about Fleiss and her alleged customers. At one point Fleiss offered to reveal the names of the wealthy men who used her services if she was paid $1 million. As the case neared trial, her attorney alleged that Fleiss had been selectively prosecuted and that her male customers, whose names were in her address book, would not be charged with any crimes.

The judge dismissed Fleiss's arguments, and she was convicted of pandering on December 2, 1994. The Los Angeles chapter of the NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN and some feminists charged that the failure to prosecute the rich and powerful customers demonstrated the double standard at work in the criminal justice system regarding prostitution offenses.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prohibition Party to Pure theory of lawProstitution - Commercial Sex: Repression Or Legalization?, Hollywood Madam, Further Readings