A Vice Mess: Arrest Of Celebrity Madam Causes A Ruckus In Tinseltown
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES - No wonder California was in the poorhouse, she wisecracked after her June 9 arrest - they had sent three police agencies and two canines to nail a 115-pound party girl. The cops leaped from her shrubbery as she was taking out the trash. "LAPD!" they barked. "Which one of you is Heidi Fleiss?"
It surprised her that they had to ask. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood knew Heidi. Gliding right in to the best booths at Jack Nicholson's place, The Monkey Bar. Clubbing with Billy Idol and Peter Sellers' daughter, Victoria. Hobnobbing with Robert Evans, the producer of "Chinatown." And wasn't it at Fleiss' house that they held that bash for Mick Jagger? And now what a ruckus her arrest has raised.
She is not an actress, not a director, not even a producer, but she has surely been a player in this town. Most of the summer, her case has captivated the entertainment industry on both coasts and ignited speculation - lists of celebrity clients, heads rolling at studios, a mysterious tape recording that names names.
For, while formal charges have yet to be filed, police say that Fleiss, the 27-year-old daughter of a prominent pediatrician, has for the past three years filled a time-honored niche: madam to the stars.
Within a week of Fleiss' arrest - according to Fleiss, her friends and a tape recording of her phone conversations - four major producers had called directly to express their condolences. Eight more producers and entertainment industry executives had friends call on their behalf. Six big-name actors checked in, as did a Sunset Strip rock impresario, a Texas real estate heir and a Beverly Hills real estate agent calling on behalf of an Italian multimillionaire who, for sentimental reasons, wanted to buy Fleiss' $1.6 million home in Benedict Canyon, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Her big black book
Some called out of friendship. Others, Fleiss said, were concerned that the names in her big black book may come out when she's to appear in court tomorrow. "A lot of people are nervous," said one well-known producer. "She . . . fixes everybody up (and) there are a lot of married people in this town getting some booty."
For as long as there has been a Hollywood, there has been a Hollywood madam. But rarely has one arrest offered such a ready window into the world whose unspoken motto has been "discretion, discretion, discretion."
"I have warned her, you cannot mention johns, not even privately - it ruins careers," sighed Elizabeth "Madam Alex" Adams, who for 20 years was the reigning Beverly Hills Madam until her arrest in 1988 and who has known Fleiss for at least the past five years.
But, from Fleiss' standpoint, the potential for leaks of her client list could be of benefit.
Two well-known producers, according to a tape-recording of one of Fleiss' phone conversations that she confirmed, have already anted up several thousand dollars apiece toward her legal bills. Meanwhile, two other producers and a screenwriter have inquired about the rights to "The Heidi Fleiss Story."
Parties and fancy cars
At first, police say, Fleiss operated out of a quiet cottage in Hollywood. Neighbors there recall the parties and the fancy cars - the Rolls-Royces, Porsches and Corvettes.
According to a law enforcement affidavit on file in Los Angeles Municipal Court, the prostitutes charged customers $1,500, and Fleiss received 40 percent of the money. Women who said they worked for Fleiss said they were paid not only in cash, but also by checks, some of them drawn on real estate corporations and movie production companies.
Soon she moved to a sprawling ranch house in Benedict Canyon. Records show it was purchased last summer from actor Michael Douglas and the deed shows Fleiss' father as owner. Fleiss' father refused to comment on the purchase or allegations against Fleiss. Other relatives said that the family until recently believed Heidi made her living from real estate.
The Benedict Canyon home became a sort of bachelor women's club. Actress Victoria Sellers moved in with Fleiss. Together, they became a fixture of L.A. night life - Sellers hosting three nights a week at On the Roxx, a trendy Sunset Strip bar, and co-hosting parties at Fleiss' house.
"There was one party for Mick Jagger, and the house just got trashed - there were women climbing up the side of the hill to get in," Sellers laughed.
"She knows major, major people," she said. "But I never asked what was going on in that, um, other part of her life."
`Her own big mouth'
The police operation was complicated, like so much in Heidi Fleiss' life. But what triggered it was simple, said LAPD Administrative Vice Capt. Glenn Ackerman: "Her own big mouth."
When it comes to vice enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Department prioritizes according to "the three Cs" - commercial, conspicuous and complained about. Fleiss was all three and then some, police said.
She lived lavishly. Gossip columns made references to her; tabloids sent paparazzi to shoot her photograph. And, police said, there were complaints aplenty about her from rival madams, jealous boyfriends, spurned employees.
"When I came in, Heidi became one of my priorities," said Ackerman, who took over the department's administrative vice division in December. Within months, a multi-agency law enforcement task force had been assembled to investigate Fleiss, drawing officers from the LAPD, the Beverly Hills Police Department, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Agency and the state Attorney General's Office.
On June 9, authorities swept into Fleiss' house, seizing 13 grams of cocaine and other evidence, including travelers checks signed, according to Fleiss, by a well-known actor. She was arrested on felony pimping, pandering and narcotics charges.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Alan Carter said he still has not completed his review of the case to determine whether to prosecute Fleiss. He declined comment.
Rumors started within days of her arrest: Studio executives had been paying Fleiss with movie development funds and corporate credit cards. Veteran vice officers said such rumors have circulated for years, but no hard evidence has emerged.
In a more tangible twist, however, a tape surfaced, containing some of Fleiss' phone conversations following the bust.
Dan Hanks, a private investigator who has previously served as a police undercover operative, said he made the tape by monitoring transmissions from an apparent wiretap of Fleiss' phone. "I thought maybe I can . . . sell a story to the tabloids or `A Current Affair' - if I could catch a celebrity with her (and) get some pictures," he said. "It could be happenin'."
Fleiss said she bought a copy of the tape from Hanks and intends to use it in her defense, provided that charges are filed. Her attorney, Anthony Brooklier, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, who actually tapped into Fleiss' conversations remains a mystery. Authorities said they are aware of the tape but it was not culled from a law enforcement wiretap.
But the tape, played for a Los Angeles Times reporter, alludes to a number of rich or famous people who know Fleiss. And as their names have begun to leak out, some have rushed to distance themselves from her. Others acknowledged knowing Fleiss but said they were only social acquaintances or friends.
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