Deborah Jeane Palfrey (March 18, 1956 – May 1, 2008) (dubbed the D.C. Madam by the news media) operated Pamela Martin and Associates, an escort agency in Washington, D.C. Although she argued that the company's services were legal, she was convicted on April 15, 2008 of racketeering, using the mail for illegal purposes, and money laundering. Slightly over two weeks later, facing a prison sentence of five or six years, she was found hanged. Autopsy results and the final police investigative report concluded that her death was a suicide.
Palfrey was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, but grew up partially in Orlando, Florida. Her father was a grocer. She graduated from Rollins College with a degree in criminal justice, and attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, but did not graduate. Working as a paralegal in San Diego, California, and later as a cocktail waitress, she became involved in the escort business. Dismayed at how most services were run, including widespread drug abuse, she started her own company recruiting mostly women over 25. In 1990 she was arrested on charges of pimping, pandering and extortion; after fleeing to Montana she was captured while trying to cross the Canadian border and brought back for trial. Following her conviction in 1992 she spent 18 months in jail. After her release, she founded Pamela Martin and Associates.
In October 2006, United States Postal Inspection Service agents posed as a couple who were interested in buying Palfrey's home as a means of accessing her property without a warrant. Agents froze bank accounts worth over US$500,000, seizing papers relating to money laundering and prostitution charges.