A disheveled and tearful Heidi Fleiss, the “Hollywood Madam” who supplied call girls to some of the world’s richest men, was sentenced Tuesday to 37 months in prison for tax evasion and money laundering, bringing a quiet end to one of the more lurid chapters in recent Los Angeles history.
The once-defiant Fleiss closed her eyes in relief as U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall imposed a prison term far less than the maximum suggested by federal sentencing guidelines. As interpreted by Marshall, Fleiss’ crimes should have carried between 78 and 97 months.
But Marshall, calling the Fleiss case “atypical,” said even the minimum sentence would have been far too harsh.
Among other things, the judge pointed to testimony from an expert witness who had testified that the guidelines for money laundering had been drafted with mobsters and cocaine cartels - not madams - in mind.
And, in a rare political statement, Marshall said, to some extent, Fleiss had been a victim of gender-based discrimination because the prosecution of prostitution offenses so rarely extends to the male customers involved.
Now 31 and recovering from an addiction to crystal methamphetamine, the Heidi Fleiss who stood before the judge was a far cry from the party girl who had mugged behind her sunglasses for the paparazzi when she first appeared in court 3-1/2 years ago.
Her eyes raw, her face bereft of makeup, she was taken from the courthouse in a blue, prison-issue workshirt and too-big pants - the wardrobe of choice at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center downtown, where she chose to remain after her release from court-ordered drug treatment last month.
In brief remarks to the judge, she struggled to express her regret in a voice that was choked with tears.
“I wish. I knew words. To tell you how sorry. I am,” Fleiss sobbed, barely able to complete a sentence. “I’m a different person now. I was young. I made terrible choices. Mistakes I wish I’d never made.”
The punishment - which includes three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service, mandatory attendance at a substance abuse program and a $400 fine - addressed only Fleiss’ conviction on federal charges of tax evasion, conspiracy and money laundering. It did not deal with pandering charges on which she is scheduled to be retried in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Her attorney, Anthony Brooklier, said there is a “high likelihood” that she will agree next week to a plea bargain in the state case.