TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. A woman police believe to be convicted Washington escort service operator Deborah Jeane Palfrey committed suicide, officials said Thursday.
A body police believe to be that of Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found in a shed near her mother's home Thursday morning in Tarpon Springs, about 20 miles northwest of Tampa. There was a suicide note, but police did not disclose its contents or how she killed herself.
Police said they were trying to confirm the woman's identity, and declined to release more details until a news conference Thursday afternoon.
That didn't stop people from reacting to her death.
"This is a tragic news and my heart goes out to her mother," defense attorney Preston Burton said.
Montgomery Blair Sibley, who served for a time as Palfrey's civil attorney, said he was shocked. "I'm personally devastated by this. All I can do is mourn the tragic loss of her life," he said.
A man who answered a phone listed for Palfrey's mother declined to comment. Officers were outside the mother's white and pink home in the community of mostly retirees.
Prosecutors were trying to find out if Palfrey was dead.
"Although we're aware of the media reports, we're still waiting for confirmation from law enforcement authorities," said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the District of Columbia U.S. attorney's office, which spent years investigating and prosecuting Palfrey.
Palfrey was convicted April 15 by a federal jury of running a prostitution service that catered to members of Washington's political elite, including Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.
She had denied her escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.
She was convicted of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering. Palfrey faced a maximum of 55 years in prison and was free pending her sentencing July 24.
Prosecutors said Palfrey operated the prostitution service for 13 years.
Her trial concluded without revealing many new details about the service or its clients. Vitter was among possible witnesses, but did not take the stand.
Vitter, a first-term senator who is married and has four children, has acknowledged being involved with Palfrey's escort service and has apologized for what he called a "very serious sin." But he avoided commenting further.
One of the escort service employees was former University of Maryland, Baltimore County, professor Brandy Britton, who was arrested on prostitution charges in 2006. She committed suicide in January before she was scheduled to go to trial.
Last year, Palfrey said she, too, was humiliated by her prostitution charges, but said: "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."
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