A Los Angeles Superior Court judge sentenced a subdued Heidi Lynne Fleiss on Monday to 18 months in prison for attempted pandering, culminating the celebrated saga of the Hollywood Madam, whose long-running case became a media sensation and legal soap opera.
Fleiss, currently serving a 37-month federal term for income tax evasion and money laundering, was silent as Judge Judith L. Champagne imposed the state prison sentence, the result of extensive negotiations between her lawyers and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Fleiss, handcuffed and wearing jail-issue khakis that were a far cry from her once-signature designer threads, had earlier answered "Yes" in a muted voice as Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Carter asked her if she agreed to plead guilty to a single felony count of attempted pandering--procuring women for prostitution. In return, prosecutors dismissed two other pandering counts.
Under the plea bargain, Fleiss will serve her state time concurrently with her federal prison sentence, and avoid state prison.
"Were we out for blood, so to speak, on this one?" Carter asked reporters after the 10-minute hearing in a sparsely attended courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. "No."
The agreement, Carter said, saves taxpayers a costly retrial of the state charges against Fleiss, whose earlier pandering conviction was thrown out by a state appellate court because of jury misconduct.
Lawyers for the once high-flying madam voiced hope that Fleiss could be residing in a halfway house by Christmas or early 1998, assuming U.S. authorities agree to send her to an alternative-sentence federal "boot camp" in Texas. She hopes to complete her sentence in court-supervised home detention, her lawyers said.
"She's going to pay her debt to society and go on with her life," Donald B. Marks, one of her attorneys, said afterward. "She's looking forward to getting this behind her."
Champagne also imposed a $500 fine on Fleiss, now 31, who operates a Santa Monica sportswear and lingerie boutique, HeidiWear.
Fleiss' understated appearance and the brisk court session stood in dramatic contrast to the tabloid hoopla and legal wrangling that have surrounded the case since it burst onto the public scene in 1993, with Fleiss' arrest stemming from an elaborate vice sting in which a Beverly Hills detective posed as a Ferrari-driving Hawaii businessman. Among the high-rolling clients enumerated in Fleiss' "black book," it was rumored, were some of Hollywood's biggest names.
The paparazzi-drawing case led to two trials, in state and federal courts, and cemented Fleiss' notoriety as an unabashed--and at times seemingly unapologetic--courtesan to the stars.
Along with titillating the public and media, the case revived the age-old debate about whether prostitution should be a crime.
In December 1994, a state court jury convicted Fleiss on three counts of pandering, while deadlocking on two other pandering charges and acquitting her on one count of supplying cocaine to an undercover police officer. She received a three-year prison sentence and was fined $1,500.
But a state appeals court overturned her conviction in May and ordered a new trial, citing misconduct among jurors who admitted trading votes to reach a verdict. The jurors' actions, the appeals panel ruled, turned "a serious proceeding into a farce."
In the parallel federal case, Fleiss was convicted in August 1995 of tax evasion and money laundering linked to her ill-gotten gains, drawing the 37-month federal sentence.
Her father, Paul Fleiss, a well-known Los Feliz pediatrician who recently examined the newborn daughter of pop star Madonna, was previously sentenced to three years' probation, 625 hours of community service and fined $50,000 for conspiring to hide profits from his daughter's call girl ring.
Times staff writer Shawn Hubler contributed to this report.