Former Federal Prosecutor Allison Leotta Bases Novel on D.C. Madam

Allison Leotta has a new novel out inspired by the infamous escort case.

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Deborah Jeane Palfrey
Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

After spending 12 years in D.C. as a federal prosecutor on sex crimes and domestic violence, Allison Leotta decided she needed to tell the stories of what she'd seen.

She published a 2010 novel, Law of Attraction, based on her persistent worry that domestic violence cases could soon escalate to homicides, and that the victims were often too attracted to the perpetrators to leave them. "Sometimes they would be kissing the guy who hit them in the back of the courtroom," Leotta recalled in a phone interview with Whispers.

Next week, Leotta has a new novel out, this time tackling a specific case, and one well-remembered in the Washington area: that of the D.C. Madam.

In 2008, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a.k.a the D.C. Madam, was convicted on federal charges for operating an escort and prostitution service in D.C. that serviced high-level clients. After her conviction, Palfrey killed herself.

Discretion, Leotta's novel on the case out July 3, is a fictional interpretation. But it is grounded in Leotta's research, experience, and her close connection to the case—Leotta's friend, Kate Connolly, was a prosecutor of the D.C. Madam.

The former prosecutor says that while researching the case, she was shocked at just how many secrets people in Washington kept.

The most remarkable example, said Leotta, was a witness for the D.C. Madam case who was a high-level lawyer by day, and a tester for the escort agency at night.

"For a discount or for free, he would give his input to the madam on how the girl's bedroom skills were," Leotta told Whispers. "This guy...and the women who had been escorts, some of whom went on to high-level jobs...they were all living with these secrets."

Leotta also recalls people she encountered living double lives when she worked at the U.S. attorney's office. These people cut across socioeconomic groups, she said, and included some lobbyists and politicians.

"But what is really interesting about the U.S. attorney's office," Leotta told Whispers, her voice rising a bit, "is that there are international lawyers, and they are dealing with the grittier side of crime. It is where D.C.'s two worlds meet."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.