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Heidi Fleiss: Madam or Legitimate Go-Between?

August 1, 1995

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Prosecutors pointing to a trail of canceled checks, questionable loan applications and revealing real estate papers asked jurors this question: Was Heidi Fleiss making money as a madam or running the world’s costliest dating service?

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Holscher insisted during closing arguments Monday that the convicted Hollywood madam ran a lucrative international sex ring. He scoffed at defense suggestions that she was a simple go-between for rich men and beautiful women.

First thing this morning, the jurors began deliberating the charges of money laundering, tax evasion, conspiracy and bank fraud. Under federal sentencing guidelines, she faces about five years in prison if convicted.

Fleiss was convicted in December of state pandering charges and sentenced to three years.

In three weeks of testimony in the federal trial, some Fleiss clients _ including actor Charlie Sheen and former Denver Nuggets owner Sidney Shlenker _ admitted paying Fleiss thousands of dollars for prostitutes. Three prostitutes spoke of $10,000 jobs and international sex junkets.

In closing arguments, her attorneys continued to deny she was a madam _ a claim essential to prevent her conviction for money laundering.

``You pick the term you want to use ... but at the end of the day all Heidi did was bring two people together,″ said attorney Tom Holliday. ``This is a kind of dating service.″

Holscher said the defense would have jurors think ``this was the most expensive dating service in the history of the world.″

Holliday said the government’s witnesses have serious credibility problems. One key prosecution witness, prostitute Samantha Burdette, had a prior drug conviction, and many prostitutes and clients testified under immunity, Holliday noted.

Holscher said Fleiss laundered more than $300,000 in prostitution proceeds through bank transactions and a bogus real estate deal.

Fleiss’ 1992 income tax return showing $33,000 in income was a lie, Holscher said, adding that Fleiss made $7,000 monthly mortgage payments that year and controlled about $600,000 in bank accounts at the time.

``Some of the money, quite honestly, we haven’t been able to find,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas said in his closing argument.

Bank records, however, showed that Fleiss deposited scores of prostitution checks in her sister Shana and father Paul’s accounts, he said. Much of the money was withdrawn to buy a $1.6 million estate, Mayorkas said.

The elder Fleiss, a pediatrician, was ``up to his nose in debt″ and served as a ``straw buyer″ for the estate at Heidi’s urging, he said. A loan application listed Paul Fleiss as the buyer.

Holliday conceded Heidi Fleiss paid for much of the estate she lived in but said it was a ``family investment,″ not a money laundering scheme. The defense also contended that her income tax return was accurate, if ``not a model of clarity.″

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