Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Heidi Fleiss: The Million Dollar Madam

The Sting

Heidi Fleiss
Heidi Fleiss

By 1993 Heidi Fleiss, 27, was the talk of Hollywood. She had some of Los Angeles' most beautiful women working for her high-end prostitution service, which specifically catered to the elite. She was one of the city's most prosperous madams, netting millions in just a couple years. However, her lucrative prostitution business was under threat.

Many were angered by Heidi's success. Some of her enemies, including pimps and madams of competitive prostitution services, and even some of the women who worked for her, wanted to put Heidi permanently out of business. They figured the best way to do it was to inform the police of her illegal activities, which they often did.

Eventually, the police began to feel pressure to do something about Heidi's business. They devised a plan that would take her off the streets for good. Little did they know that it would cause a nationwide sensation that would propel Heidi into the limelight.  

In April of that year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department coordinated an elaborate plot, along with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, to catch Heidi in the act of pandering. The plan involved an undercover Beverly Hills police officer who posed as a wealthy Japanese client looking to procure services. The agent contacted Heidi and arranged for four prostitutes to meet him and several "colleagues" at a room in the Beverly Hills Hilton. He offered to pay $6,000 for the girls' services.

Heidi Fleiss in cuffs with lawyers
Heidi Fleiss in cuffs with lawyers

Heidi agreed to the arrangement and on June 8 she sent four of her finest girls, as well as 13 grams of cocaine, which was requested by the undercover agent. The prostitutes had no idea what was awaiting them. Jesse Birnbaum suggested in her article "Heidi Does Hollywood" that the police meticulously prepared the meeting room at the hotel, installing hidden cameras and bugging equipment for the sting.

When the girls arrived, the undercover agents pretended to be eager clients, talking about sex with the girls and watching provocative videos. Eventually, each girl was asked explicitly for sex. After the girls unknowingly agreed on tape, a signal was sounded alerting more than 20 officers staked out in the room next door. The agents busted into the room and arrested the prostitutes.

The next day, the police apprehended Heidi while taking out the garbage at her Benedict Canyon home in Beverly Hills. Heidi faced felony charges, which included five counts of pandering and one count of possession of narcotics. She was expected to receive a minimum sentence of three years.

Heidi's arrest shook the very foundations of Hollywood. Around the time she was taken into custody, some of Tinseltown's biggest names feared that she would publicly expose that they procured services from her. It was a scandal of epic proportions that threatened many high-profile marriages and the jobs of some of Hollywood's movers and shakers.

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