commentary by Patrick H. Moore
Heidi Fleiss, one of America’s most famous madams, was born on December 30, 1965 in Los Angeles, California. Although she was close to her parents, popular pediatrician Paul Fleiss and schoolteacher Elissa Fleiss, Heidi never liked school and ultimately dropped out of high school. She was always of an entrepreneurial bent and as a “tweener”, she organized a successful babysitting cooperative. In her early 20s, she launched a high class prostitution ring that catered to the rich and famous. This led to her being referred to by those in the know as the “Hollywood Madam.” Little did she know that before the age of 30, she would be charged with pandering and would be sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.
By 1993 Heidi Fleiss, 27, was the talk of Hollywood. She had some of Los Angeles’ most beautiful women working for her high-end prostitution service, which specifically catered to the elite. She was one of the city’s most prosperous madams, netting millions in just a couple years.
Like many successful business persons in any profession, the competition viewed Heidi as a “Joanie Come Lately” and many members of the “world’s oldest profession,” including pimps and madams of competitive prostitution services wanted to knock her out of business. Law enforcement began hearing tales of her illegal activities which led them to eventually formulate a strategy to take her off the streets for good. What they did not contemplate, however, was that her arrest would cause a nationwide sensation that would propel Heidi into the limelight.
In April of that year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department coordinated an elaborate plot, along with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, to catch Heidi in the act of pandering. The plan involved an undercover Beverly Hills police officer who posed as a wealthy Japanese client looking to procure services. The agent contacted Heidi and arranged for four prostitutes to meet him and several “colleagues” at a room in the Beverly Hills Hilton. He offered to pay $6,000 for the girls’ services.
Heidi sent over four of her finest girls and 13 grams of cocaine as requested by the undercover agent. Writer Jesse Birnbaum suggested in her article “Heidi Does Hollywood”, that the police made substantial preparations for the tryst, meticulously installing hidden cameras and bugging equipment.
The undercover agents chatted up the girls while they watched provocative videos together. In time, explicit sexual activities were proposed to which the girls agreed. This was recorded on tape and at an opportune moment, more than 20 officers staked out next door busted into the room and arrested the prostitutes.
Heidi was arrested the next day while taking out her garbage at her home in Benedict Canyon above Los Angeles. Her felony counts included five counts of pandering and one count of possession of narcotics.
Her arrest shook the very foundations of Hollywood. Many of Tinseltown’s biggest names were terrified that they would be exposed should Heidi’s extensive client list be made public:
It was a scandal of epic proportions that threatened many high-profile marriages and the jobs of some of Hollywood’s movers and shakers.
Heidi Fleiss is undoubtedly not a saint but neither is she a “rat”. The names contained in her “little black book” never surfaced, although Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen was eventually “outed” as one of her clients.
A True and Loyal Friend
The fact that Heidi chose not to reveal who her clients were is in keeping with her generally loyal and supportive nature which is nowhere better epitomized than in the case of her dear friend, Wendy Tarr.
Fresh out of high school, Wendy Tarr had moved to Los Angeles from her hometown of Collinsville, Illinois in 1989 with dreams of making it big as a model or actress. She and Heidi became fast friends and began spending a great deal of time together. In order to pay the bills while waiting for her career in entertainment to take off, Wendy found a job renting out apartments in a crime-infested part of Central Los Angeles.
On October 2, a man entered the rental office where Wendy was working, allegedly looking to rent property. The man filled out a rental application and then left the office. According to Heidi’s book, he returned to the office a short time later with a .38-caliber pistol and tried to rape Wendy. In the struggle, the man’s gun went off, shooting her in the face at close range.
Although heroic efforts were made by surgeons at USC Medical Center to save Wendy’s life, she remained in a comatose state and never awakened. Like the true friend she was, Heidi spent three entire days at the hospital watching over and praying for her friend. It was to no avail and Wendy succumbed to her wounds on October 5th.
Heidi vowed to bring the killer to justice and publicly stated that the police were aware of his identity. The man, James Edward Noel, 43, had been implicated in many other rape cases before Wendy’s death.
Chafing at the inaction on the part of law enforcement, Heidi wrote a letter to America’s Most Wanted, the popular True Crime television series, appealing to them to air a segment about Wendy’s case. Heidi’s appeal was accepted and Wendy’s tragic story aired on February 5, 1990.
The day after the segment aired on television Noel turned himself in to authorities. He confessed to the first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.
Heidi Fleiss’ Legal Nightmare
The Heidi Fleiss prosecution scandal took off like a rocket and news media from around the world converged on Los Angeles Municipal Court hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous “madam to the stars”. Her arraignment took place on August 9, 1993. She was represented by well-known Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers Anthony Brooklier and Don Marks. Heidi pleaded not guilty and was indicted one month later.
Entrapment is a legitimate defense in California state court proceedings, and during the trial that year, Marks and Brooklier “presented a persuasive argument claiming that officers entrapped her.” The defense argument that she had been set up elicited a positive response on the part of some of the jurors. Other members of the jury, however, were convinced that she had been justly apprehended.
In a controversial gesture, some of the jurors decided to bargain in the hope of coming to a mutual agreement in order to prevent a deadlock. It worked and on December 2, 1994, Heidi was found guilty on three of the five pandering counts. She was acquitted on the other two pandering counts as well as the narcotics charge.
Months later, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith L. Champagne sentenced Heidi to three years in prison and a $1,500 fine.
When Heidi’s lawyers learned that some of the jurors “traded votes” to reach a verdict, they appealed for a new trial. Heidi was allowed to remain free on bail. Always the entrepreneur, she threw herself into her new occupation, “selling men’s boxer shorts and other apparel at her newly opened store in L.A. aptly called “Heidi Wear.”
She was hardly out of the woods. however. The federal authorities had their eye on her state case and on July 28, 1994, a federal grand jury indicted her on 14 counts of conspiracy, as well as income tax evasion and money laundering. Heidi’s father, Dr. Paul Fleiss, was brought into the case for having helped Heidi procure a $1 million bank loan, allegedly under false pretenses, which she used to finance her Benedict Canyon home. Father and daughter both entered pleas of “not guilty.”
Despite her iron will, facing charges in both federal and state court proved to be more than Heidi could bear. She was being drug-tested and in September of 1994, a drug test came up positive for methamphetamine. She was ordered to enter a drug treatment center.
Despite the best efforts of her crackerjack defense team, Heidi failed to prevail at her federal trial and in August of 1995, she was convicted on eight counts of conspiracy, and on tax evasion and money laundering. Her father, Dr. Paul Fleiss, was lucky and received three years probation. At sentencing, Heidi’s defense team brought up her many positive qualities, but in those days the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were still mandatory, and Heidi was eventually sentenced to 37 months in a minimum-security prison. She then struck a a plea bargain in her state case and received another 18 months for the pandering charges. In total, Heidi ultimately served about three years in prison.
Being Heidi, throughout all of this, “Heidi never publicly revealed the names of her customers.” Her only two famous clients who were revealed publicly during the court hearings were actor Charlie Sheen and Texas billionaire businessman Robert T. Crow. The identities of her other customers are still open to speculation.
Doing Time Is No Picnic
Immediately before serving her federal prison sentence, Heidi again tested positive for drugs. She was remanded to a drug rehabilitation clinic where she remained until she was to be transferred to federal prison in September 1996.
The women’s federal prison camp in Dublin, California was worse than Heidi had anticipated. In his article “Don’t Call Me Madam,” Donald Campbell writes that it “was a frightening and humiliating experience.” Because of the perception on the part of some of the other inmates that she had exploited women when running her prostitution service, she was often “harassed by the female inmates, which at times resulted in fights.” Heidi at times was literally forced to fight for her life.
According to anecdotal evidence, “Heidi was pressured to prove her toughness to other inmates by standing up to a female prison officer who remanded her for moving a locker in her cell.” Realizing she had little choice, Heidi hurled two chairs over the officer’s head. In an interview Heidi claimed that had she not done as she was told, there would have been “serious consequences” and she would possibly have become someone’s “little prison bitch.” Although it is not that well known, even low and minimum security women’s federal prisons are known to be “hotbeds” of lesbian activity, which is often coercive in nature.
Heidi ended up spending 63 days in the SHU, a special housing unit for hostile prisoners and prisoners in danger of being assaulted. There, Heidi was confined to small concrete cell.
It wasn’t all bad, however. Heidi got a lot of reading done and played chess with some of the other inmates, some of whom she taught to play the game.
Heidi was an exceptional chess player, having won two city chess championships in a row as a child.
She also made a few friends. During an interview with Larry King, Heidi mentioned she forged a close bond with a woman named Sylvia, who was serving time for drug charges. Sylvia, who was “seasoned by years of imprisonment, gave Heidi advice that helped her through her most difficult periods.”
Heidi was released from prison in November of 1998 and placed in a L.A. halfway house for the duration of her sentence. Surprisingly, she discovered that there was virtually no supervision at the halfway house and that it was in many ways more dangerous than prison. Amazingly, she soon requested to be returned to prison to finish her sentence. Her request was granted and she returned to the Dublin camp to complete her sentence.
What Shall I Do for an Encore?
Heidi was finally released from prison for good in September of 1999. She performed 300 hours of community service, which included her working for seven months at a downtown L.A. soup kitchen.
Although Heidi was reportedly more or less broke upon being released from prison, with help from her parents, she was able to buy a new house in Hollywood and a Porsche. She also underwent cosmetic surgery to her face and bust.
Over the next five years, she worked as a talk-show hostess and a sex tips advisor both on websites and videos. She appeared in the comedy movie “You’ll Never Work in This Town Again”, with Ellen Degeneres and in 2003, she published her long-awaited memoir Pandering, which did quite well. Heidi’s biggest problem, however, was her love life.
In 2001, she began dating actor Tom Sizemore, who was known for his roles in the movies “Black Hawk Down,” “Heat” and “Saving Private Ryan.” For a period of time, their relationship appeared to be a success and Heidi told Larry King that they were “happy together.” This, however, did next last and abuse charges surfaced which led to a court hearing.
According to Dan Whitcomb’s article “Ex-Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss Sobs in LA Court, ” Heidi tearfully stated on the stand that Tom stubbed a cigarette out on her, beat her up, dragged her across the room by her hair and harassed her. Tom’s lawyers said Tom was innocent and that Heidi was lying. However, the prosecution was able to support Heidi’s account with evidence, which included pictures of her beaten and threatening answering machine messages left by Tom.
Tom was ultimately convicted on six charges including physical abuse and harassment. He initially received a sentence of six months in jail which was reduced to ninety days in January 2004.
Heidi’s bad relationship with Sizemore appears to be emblematic of her overall problems with men. To make matters worse, her love affair with methamphetamine proved to be ongoing. She eventually moved to Pahrump, Nevada, where she opened a laundromat called Dirty Laundry. She has also lived in solitude in Death Valley while caring for 25 parrots. The well-known celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky has treated Heidi for substance abuse. He performed brain scans on her that showed significant frontal lobe dysfunction. Dr. Pinsky has surmised that this abnormality, which may well have been exacerbated by methamphetamine abuse, has affected her ability to form intimate relationships later in life.
Although this story has a sad ending, there was a time when Heidi Fleiss was “the talk of the town.” Her notoriety, however, has not translated into any kind of permanent success and today she appears to be a lonely and isolated woman.
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