If anyone can offer any special insight into the Eliot Spitzer scandal, it's Heidi Fleiss. The former Hollywood madam—who once ran a call girl business that served clients like actor Charlie Sheen and who served 21 months in federal prison after being convicted of tax evasion—says she is not surprised by the New York governor's alleged link to a prostitution ring. "What's the mystery?" she asks. "If the guy wants to get laid, he wants to get laid."
Fleiss now lives in Pahrump, Nev., about 80 miles west of Las Vegas, where in 2005 she announced plans to open Nevada's first brothel for female customers. She's vague about why that hasn't happened, except to say that she's now in talks to go into business on that front with Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch near Reno, which was the focus of the HBO show "Cathouse." Meanwhile, Fleiss has opened a laundromat called Dirty Laundry in Pahrump. Last month she was charged with DUI and drug possession and is awaiting trial in that case. Fleiss spoke to NEWSWEEK about the Spitzer case. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Does it surprise you that someone as high-profile as the governor of New York would get in trouble like this?
Heidi Fleiss: Of course not. Dude, these are men. They think about sex 98 percent of the time.
When you were running your own call girl business, did it ever surprise you what kind of risks these men were taking?
No. Why would it surprise me?
Well, I'm asking. You knew who they were and …
I wasn't going to tell anything.
I know you weren't, but still, it's quite a risk. Did you ever wonder what was motivating these men?
Well, come on, the guy wants to get laid. If the guy wants to get laid, he wants to get laid. What's the mystery? It's an adult activity.
So if these charges are true, should this be the end of Gov. Spitzer's career?
Absolutely. You can't vigorously pursue prosecuting these prostitution rings—I mean, this guy made a point of it—and then do this. Get that guy out of office. He's a liar. He has no business being the voice of the people.
You don't have any sympathy for him?
Well, you know, who wants a governor who doesn't have sex? That would be creepy. But you can't be a hypocrite and a zealot. He's made prostitution out to be a horrible crime. Obviously it's not if he was doing it. It's just a business that needs to be regulated so the women don't have to always suffer.
Does it amaze you, though, that people like this get caught?
You know, it's like the thing with Larry Craig [the anti-gay Idaho senator who pleaded guilty to soliciting a male undercover police officer in a public restroom last summer]. It's always the zealots that go down.
Let's talk about the payment rates. The Web site for the ring that the governor is accused of being involved with indicated that the prices were based on how many diamonds a woman was given. Is that how you did it?
Everyone runs their business differently. I had some business principles and a formula that worked consistently for me, and I never changed it. You don't charge more for one girl, less for another. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You have someone who's a five-diamond—maybe she's a two-diamond to someone else. That's just a loser way of doing business. You have one set fee.
What were your rates?
Mine were—and keep in mind this was years ago—$1,500 an hour. If it was overnight, I think it was $2,000. But my customers sometimes paid sometimes $5,000, sometimes $75,000, sometimes $3,000. But I would always charge everyone the same, no matter how much money they have.
So it wasn't based on what sexual activities were provided?
It had nothing to do with the weird things that go on, no. It only had to do with how much that individual, that client, tipped. If you're a billionaire, you might give a girl $100,000. It makes a big difference in that girl's life, but to that dude it doesn't matter one bit.
As this scandal comes up, people are saying, "Oh, prostitution is so horrible" …
Look, it's going to go on. You're never going to stop prostitution. The way to do it is to regulate it. Clean it up a bit. Make it fair—fair for the girls, fair for the clients. At the end the government gets money out of it.
When stuff like this comes up, do you often find yourself playing prostitution expert for the media?
I don't know. I just live my life. I do have other things going on in my life other than sitting by the phone waiting for governors to get in trouble for consorting with prostitutes.
I have a coin-operated laundry business right now, and I'm going to open a couple more. Who knows? In five years I could have 500; it could be like Starbucks. I'm going to open one more in Pahrump and then a couple in some college communities. I'm doing some research on where to go with it now.
What's the status of your DUI thing?
Eh, you know, whatever it is, I don't care. Whether it's a fine, whether they send me to county jail, whether it's drug court. I don't care. Get it over with. Give it to me.
Do you ever Google yourself?
No. Why should I? So I can read a bunch of negative stuff? Great. More power to 'em.
They've been making a lot of fun of your mug shot lately.
I'm sure. It's the worst picture ever. I can't look like Miss America all the time. And I don't try to.
If you were going to advise Gov. Spitzer on what to do now, what would you tell him?
Step down from office. And, dude, if you're into hookers, that's fine. But lie to the public? That's not right.