Sen. David Vitter, who publicly apologized after being linked to an alleged prostitution ring in Washington, was once a client of a high-priced New Orleans brothel, a former madam told a New Orleans television station Tuesday.
Jeanette Maier, who pleaded guilty to running the Canal Street brothel in 2002, made the allegation in an interview with WDSU-TV.
"He seemed to be one of the nicest men and most honorable men I've ever met," Maier said in the taped interview.
Maier said that Vitter visited the brothel several times for several years in the mid-1990s. Maier's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for an interview by The Associated Press.
Federal prosecutors unveiled the existence of the $300-an-hour brothel in April 2002. It was linked to similar operations in other U.S. cities. Maier was among 17 defendants who pleaded guilty in the investigation. With all the guilty pleas, there was never a trial, and that kept under wraps a list of customers that reportedly included prominent attorneys, doctors and business professionals.
Vitter's office did not respond to a call for comment on the latest allegation.
'A very serious sin in my past'
He had declined interview requests throughout the day Tuesday, and he made no public appearances in the Capitol. The night before, he'd made a startling confession in an e-mail to The Associated Press:
"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling."
Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there _ with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."
The statement containing Vitter's apology said his telephone number was on old phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates before he ran for the Senate.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey was accused in federal court of racketeering by running a prostitution ring that netted more than $2 million over 13 years, beginning in 1993. She contends, however, that her escort service, Pamela Martin and Associates, was a legitimate business.
Vitter, 46, a Republican in his first Senate term, was elected to the Senate in 2004. He represented Louisiana's 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2004.
Vitter and his wife, Wendy, live in Metairie, Louisiana, with their four children.
Vitter, a first-term Republican who previously served in the House, recently played a prominent role in derailing an immigration bill backed by President Bush. He also is a key supporter of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid, serving as regional campaign chairman for the South.
Palfrey's attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, told the AP, "I'm stunned that someone would be apologizing for this." He said Palfrey had posted the phone numbers of her escort service's clients online Monday, but he did not know whether Vitter's number was among them. Vitter's statement was sent to the AP's New Orleans bureau Monday evening.
Palfrey's Web site contains 20 compressed files of phone records, dating from August 1994 to August 2006. No names are listed, only phone numbers. Palfrey wrote on the Web site that she believed a disk containing the records had been pirated, and wrote that she was posting the records "to thwart any possible distorted version and to ensure the integrity of the information."
Silas Lee, a political analyst and pollster in New Orleans, spoke Monday about the possible political impact on Vitter.
"In the short term, I think the issue will dominate the discourse for a few days and weeks, and though he's up for re-election in 2010, it should dissipate by then," Lee told WWL-TV in New Orleans.
‘They may not be able to forgive’
"But for some of his very conservative constituents, it might not be as easy. In their mind and eyes, they may not be able to forgive. The majority may overlook it in time depending on his job performance and how sincere voters believe he wants them to forgive him."
Earlier this year Palfrey, 51, of Vallejo, California, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the criminal case against her — a request the court denied in May. Her attorney had argued that it was unfair to proceed against Palfrey because her assets remain seized in a civil forfeiture case, meaning she lacks the money to hire an attorney of her choice.
Randall Tobias, a senior official in the State Department, resigned in April after ABC News confronted him about his use of the escort service. He admitted that he had hired women to come to his Washington condo and give him massages but denied that he had sex with the escorts.
Palfrey threatened for months to release her client list, which led prosecutors to accuse her of trying to intimidate potential witnesses.
Contending that her escort service was legal, Palfrey revealed details of its operation on ABC television's news magazine "20/20" on May 4. At the time, ABC said it could not link any information provided by Palfrey to members of Congress or White House officials but did find links to prominent business executives, NASA officials and at least five military officers.
Prosecutors contend that Palfrey knew the 130 women she employed over 13 years were engaged in prostitution. She claims that she operated a "legal, high-end erotic fantasy service" and that the women signed contracts in which they promised not to have sex with clients. The service charged a flat rate of $275 for 90 minutes, she said.
Palfrey pleaded guilty to pimping charges in 1991 and was sentenced to 18 months in a California prison.