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A Cautionary Tale (long)


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Mar 12, 2003
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From The New York Times :

February 19, 2004
A City Combs Madam's 'Black Book' for the Names It Knows

REDERICK, Md., Feb. 18 — Love may be a fleeting thing, but e-mail messages are forever. Or so the chagrined clientele of Madam Angelika Potter's Corporate Affair escort service are learning.
On Wednesday, the City of Frederick ended a long-running lawsuit by releasing evidence from a seven-month police investigation into Ms. Potter's once-thriving prostitution business, including photographs, financial ledgers, police surveillance tapes and 8,500 pages of documents, mainly e-mail messages from the lovelorn and lusty.
The trove was set out for viewing in the elegant second-floor foyer of City Hall. Reporters sifted through boxes of documents while a television set played a police surveillance video of men entering and leaving Ms. Potter's place of business. Among the evidence was what everyone in Frederick, about 40 miles north of Washington, now knows as the "black book," Ms. Potter's meticulously maintained list of clients.
The list, with thousands of names, has been a tinderbox of controversy since Ms. Potter pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of "operating a house of assignation" in November 2000, for which she paid a $100 fine.
Outraged at what they viewed a lenient penalty, some residents, including the president of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter, accused the authorities of letting Ms. Potter off the hook to keep her client list secret. There could be only one reason, they argued. The list must contain the names of officials and other Frederick elite.
The police and prosecutors denied that, saying there was not enough evidence to convict Ms. Potter of more serious charges. The Frederick News-Post, along with a resident and The Associated Press, sued, demanding the release of the records. Late last month, a state appellate court ruled in their favor, and on Wednesday, the records went public.
It seems fair to say that at least a few men in this city of 52,000 are nervous about what lies inside. Already, City Hall has been inundated with phone calls about the list, mainly from wives asking whether their husbands are on it, officials said. More than 100 copies of "the book" have been sold at $20 apiece to the curious and vindictive alike. The News-Post has assigned six people, including the publisher, to search the files for familiar names.
The acting publisher, Robin L. Quillon, said the paper did not intend to print the entire list of men who paid $250 an hour at Ms. Potter's. But Mr. Quillon said his paper was determined to find out whether there had indeed been a cover-up of official misconduct, or at least hanky-panky.
"How can a major investigation fizzle when it reaches the county courthouse?" Mr. Quillon asked in an interview. "We're not here to titillate. But we believe prominent public officials, by virtue of their duties, can be judged by a different standard."
Ms. Potter's list has already helped end one career, that of Blaine Young, whose name was on a partial list released in 2001. Mr. Young, an alderman at the time and the son of a former mayor, said he had hired the women to dance at parties, not for sex. He decided not to run for re-election after The News-Post published reports on his liaisons.
The controversy may also have contributed to the defeat in 2001 of Mayor James S. Grimes, who fought against releasing the records and was an ally of Mr. Young. Jennifer P. Dougherty, a restaurant owner, challenged Mr. Grimes on an open-government platform, promising to release the black book. She won handily.
But the release was not so easy. The city's insurance company told Ms. Dougherty that she had to fight an order from a lower court to release the files, lest the city be liable to suits by angry johns. The mayor appealed, and the city lost on Jan. 28 in the Court of Special Appeals.
Since then, the city's four lawyers have been reading every e-mail message and document, editing out Social Security numbers and financial information about the clients. Copying the documents has cost the city $10,000, officials said.
The process has also put the city in the odd position of being an official purveyor of pornography, because it has to release a smutty homemade video seized by the police. The city offers "private screenings" of the video, which it also sells for $20.
"This isn't exactly what I expected to be doing when I went to law school," Heather Price Smith, the city's chief legal services officer, said.
The thousands of e-mail messages, from the kinky to the quotidian, show the inner working of the prostitution ring and pornographic Web site that Ms. Potter ran from home in Walkersville and an apartment here before her arrest in July 1999. (The Web site remains in operation.)
There are inquiries from a Baltimore man who wanted to dress like a woman while being seduced by a woman and from a Maryland man who wanted to film a naked woman dialing the phone for 20 minutes.
Pat from Seattle wondered whether a woman could meet him at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Sam wanted a night session involving "three physical encounters."
"My needs are pretty strong," he wrote.
Alan requested a special birthday encounter with Ms. Potter herself.
Women sent photos asking to join the escort service. So did men. One, "Bambam," who sent messages from a House of Representatives Internet address, asked to be listed as an exotic dancer on the Web site.
Alex of Arlington, Va., said he was about to leave the Marines for graduate school but was strapped for money. A friend suggested that he go into the escort service.
"I didn't even know there was a market for male escorts," Alex wrote. "Is there a demand?"
Ms. Potter advised: "Male escorts are a myth. Women don't have to pay for it. Last try was Bambam. There is no market. Sorry."
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