I was thrilled to be featured by Paul Wagner on Fox News yesterday! My house never looked so clean before this interview (and may never look so clean again).
I was thrilled to be featured by Paul Wagner on Fox News yesterday! My house never looked so clean before this interview (and may never look so clean again).
With my second novel, DISCRETION, launching last week, I’ve started my book tour. This is my favorite part of being an author. Most of my time is spent at my kitchen table, typing away, alone. While creating a story is satisfying, I love getting out of the house, having an excuse to put on some mascara, and talking to readers and friends.
The week kicked off with an interview by Fox-5’s Paul Wagner. The journalist and his cameraman, Nelson Jones, stopped by my house to talk about DISCRETION. (I spent the two days before that frantically cleaning my living room.) Paul and Nelson were very funny and extremely nice … and even commented on how neat the house looked. After the interview in my house, we shot some footage in front of the Capitol and D.C. Superior Court. All in all, it was the most glamorous thing I’ve done so far this year. I’ll post the clip when it airs.
Then I went to NPR’s Baltimore affiliate, WYPR, and interviewed with the wonderful Sheilah Kast, host of Maryland Morning. Sheilah is the most talented conversationalist I’ve ever met, interested, informed and warm. It’s no wonder she’s such a successful talk-show host. This is the second time I’ve been on her show, and I feel very honored every time.
Finally, I had a book signing at the wonderful Politics & Prose bookstore in D.C. on Friday. I met the new owner, Lissa Muscatine, who told about her plan to renovate the store. It sounds like it will be beautiful. And the events coordinator, Sarah Baline, threw a great party. The place was packed, with a standing-room-only crowd, and we sold out of books! I had a great time.
Next stop: A book signing tonight, at the Baltimore Barnes & Noble (Inner Harbor) at 7:00 pm. If you’re in town, stop by!
Hello, friends and readers! I’m really excited that my next novel, “Discretion,” launches today! If you’ve enjoyed this blog, please buy the book! It’s a fast-paced story of sex, politics and the secrets we keep, and it draws on my years prosecuting sex-crimes in D.C.
It’s been wonderful to get great reviews from some of my favorite authors:
“Discretion is a first-rate thriller.”
— David Baldacci
“The best legal thriller I’ve read this year, beautifully crafted and frighteningly real. Leotta knows her stuff cold and will bring you into a world of big money, corruption, high-end prostitution and murder. If you’re a fan of Grisham or Richard North Patterson, you simply have to buy this novel.”
— Douglas Preston
“Assured, authentic, and highly entertaining.”
— George Pelecanos
“Fast, fresh, and addictive.”
— Lisa Scottoline
Here’s some of the backstory.
For twelve years, I prosecuted sex crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. I saw the cases the press would glamorize – high-end escort services like the “D.C. Madam” and New York’s “Millionaire Madam.” But I also saw that both high-priced call girls and low-rent streetwalkers were among the most vulnerable of women to being raped, assaulted, and murdered. I wanted to understand the lives of these madams and their employees: why so many college girls choose such a high-risk route, the secret lives they have to juggle, the dangers they face every time they meet a client.
The case of the D.C. Madam particularly interested me. She operated a high-end escort service catering to politicians, diplomats, and wealthy businessmen in the nation’s capital. My office prosecuted and convicted her, but before she was sentenced, she committed suicide. There were plenty of people – wealthy, powerful men – with an incentive to shut her up. My sensible prosecutor side dismissed such speculation, but the crime novelist in me wondered if someone might have killed the madam, and how it might have been done.
About the same time, I visited the U.S. Capitol and walked through the Rotunda, where famous oil paintings of America’s birth cover the walls. In the paintings, hundreds of men are portrayed – but I saw only four women. Of the four, two are naked and on their knees. I started thinking about the sexual power dynamics that have surrounded our country from its founding, and which still surround us today. I started formulating the ideas that became DISCRETION: A Novel. Those paintings in the Rotunda became part of my first chapter.
In researching the book, I was able to draw on my experiences working with sex workers within the criminal justice system – and former sex workers who now serve as victims’ advocates, helping others leave the business. I also spoke with additional law enforcement officials and social workers to view different angles of the sex trade. I was gratified by the candor with which people talked to me about the facts, the fantasies, and the fetishes that are serviced, and the methods that are employed in this often cut-throat business. In writing DISCRETION, my challenge wasn’t finding real-life material, but deciding how to explain details that might be shocking for readers to hear.
I hope you like it!
Hey folks! I’m delighted that my next novel, “Discretion,” was featured in the National Law Journal and U.S. New & World Report‘s Washington Whispers this week. Check out the fun articles. “Discretion” launches next week (which means if you order it now, you can get it in your mailbox on Tuesday). I’m really proud of the story. I hope you will enjoy it!
Are you missing SVU as much as I am? Then you’ll probably enjoy this spoof, where one woman plays all the roles on Law & Order: SVU.
I’m excited to tell you that Simon & Schuster published my e-short story, TEN RULES FOR A CALL GIRL, yesterday.
The story is about the initiation of a modern courtesan, and is equal parts SVU and Fifty Shades of Gray. Best of all it’s FREE (for now)! I’m very happy to offer it to my friends and fans at no cost.
Download your free copy today:
And then tell me what you think! I hope you like it.
The finale of Law & Order: SVU Season 13 aired last Wednesday. As a former sex-crimes prosecutor, I’ve mocked silly episodes about amputation fetishes and sperm donor impersonators. But this season also brought great new characters, blisteringly real story lines, and impeccable timing on controversial issues. What’s most striking about this season, however, is how many lessons from the show could literally save your life. In case you missed some episodes, here are my top ten real-life lessons to take from this season of SVU.
1. You may already be in love with your rapist.
When we think of rape, we tend to picture a stranger lurking in the bushes. But most sexual assaults I saw as a prosecutor were committed by a man the victim knew intimately: an ex-boyfriend or stepfather; a doctor or minister; a teacher or coach; a professional colleague or the guy brought home from a bar. SVU honed in on this theme in Season 13. Personal Fouls featured a youth basketball coach who molested his players. Theatre Tricks included a tech-savvy stalker who was the victim’s neighbor and friend. The victim in Blood Brothers wouldn’t name her wealthy assailant because she hoped he would marry her. Many of us worry about someone breaking into our homes – but what you most need to worry about is who you invite in.
2. Look out for your sons as much as your daughters.
Personal Fouls was a remarkable episode paralleling the Jerry Sandusky / Joe Paterno case. (And it aired before the real scandal broke – I’m still wondering how the writers managed that one.) The episode highlighted sex crimes against boys.
While sexual assaults are the most under-reported crimes in America, assaults against male victims are the most under-reported of all. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 American women and 1 in 6 American men will be the victim of a sexual assault in their lifetime. But hardly any of the male survivors come forward, principally because of the perceived stigma attached to being a victim. SVU’s Detective Amanda Rollins got it right when she said, “Male victims today are where female victims were 40 years ago. It’s the dark ages.” Kudos to SVU for getting people to talk about this subject, and helping male survivors realize they’re not alone.
3. If you are sexually assaulted, tell the police the truth. Immediately.
SVU opened its season with Scorched Earth, a riff on the real Dominique-Strauss Kahn case. The episode featured a fictional hotel maid who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a powerful European politician. When inconsistencies surfaced in her story, the case tanked. In real life, it’s nearly impossible to prosecute a he-said/she-said sex assault when the victim has made seriously conflicting statements. If you’re worried about telling the police something, it’s better to get it out up front.
Delays in reporting rapes are also a common challenge, as highlighted in the episode True Believers, where a college student didn’t come forward immediately, because she was in shock and had her final exams the next day. Victims often have understandable reasons for not making an immediate report of rape, but the sooner a truthful report is made, the stronger the case.
4. Lock your door.
Michael Moore might disagree, but the simple act of locking your door could save your life, and it’s surprisingly often
overlooked. Double Strand featured a serial rapist similar to the real-life East Coast Rapist – a man charged with sexually assaulting multiple women by walking into their homes when a door or window was left open. True Believers featured a rapist who got into a home by slipping in while a woman was bringing in her groceries. When stranger rapes do occur, these two scenarios are often how they start.
5. There is no florist-client privilege.
Frequent TV mentions of the attorney-client and doctor-patient privileges have made viewers believe in other privileges that don’t actually exist. A florist in Blood Brothers argued (unsuccessfully) that his delivery of roses was confidential. I’ve had people argue that information they told their hotel concierge, postman, or yoga instructor was privileged. Not true. You may have a privilege for confidences you tell your doctor, spouse, or religious leader, but in the right circumstances, even those can be circumvented. Keep your secrets between yourself and your lawyer.
6. Never shake a baby.
In Missing Pieces, the detectives considered Shaken-Baby Syndrome to explain the mysterious death of an infant. As a prosecutor, I saw too many cases of babies who were killed or brain-damaged from being shaken by a frustrated parent. If you feel like you can’t take your baby’s crying one moment longer, set him down in a crib, go to another room, and give yourself some time to recoup. Crying can’t kill a baby – but shaking can.
7. The police can lie to you to extract a confession.
In Home Invasion and Strange Beauty, the SVU detectives extracted confessions by lying to the suspects. The Supreme Court has approved of police deception to get a confession. If you’re ever interrogated by the police, you have to tell the truth – but they don’t.
8. Use caution when mixing work with romance.
One of the more interesting continuing plot lines this season involved Detective Olivia Benson’s romance with a dashing ADA played by Harry Connick, Jr. Interoffice romances can always be dicey, and it was heartbreaking – and realistic – to see Olivia lose her first good relationship in a long time after she and Harry crossed some ethical lines in Justice Denied. But the worst thing about it was that Harry was in the show all season, and he didn’t sing even once.
9. Don’t have sex with people under your supervision.
Educated Guess featured a mental-hospital guard who had sex with a patient in his ward. Many jurisdictions have laws making it illegal for prison guards to have sex with prisoners, teachers to have sex with their students, and mental hospital employees to have sex with patients. Even if the prisoner, student, or patient is saying “yes,” there’s too much of a power differential. Don’t mix it up with your clientele.
10. One more reason not to become a prostitute.
Prostitutes are eighteen times more likely to be killed than other women. They often don’t call the police if someone robs, assaults, or rapes them, and many have no family to look for them if they go missing. Predators know this, and serial killers have often preyed on prostitutes. Hunting Ground highlighted this dynamic with a harrowing mash-up of the real-life Long Island Serial Killer and the Craig’s List Killer. My second novel, “Discretion,” is about the case of a high-end escort killed at the U.S. Capitol.
I can’t guarantee you’ll live longer if you watch SVU. But you may just learn something. And if next season is at all like this one, we’ll all have a lot of fun.
Recap: The SVU finale “Rhodium Nights” ended Season 13 with a bang. This was a fast-paced, fun episode (to the extent anything involving two murdered escorts can be “fun”), based on a couple of interesting real-life cases.
We open with the world’s most extravagant, debauched bachelor party. Dozens of gorgeous semi-naked women lap-dance on NY Yankees, Secret Services agents, and the bachelor – who’s the son of the police commissioner. The guy who’s hosting the party goes to his bedroom to get busy with a giggly blond. Instead, they find the cold, dead body of a 16-year-old girl in her panties.
All the VIPs deny knowing the dead girl. But the ME determines she died from a lethal dose of scopolamine. Our good detectives figure out her identity by tracking down the serial numbers of her breast implants.
The trail soon leads to an elite underworld of high-priced sex for sale. In the midst of this world is Olivia’s gravelly-voiced ex-boyfriend, Cassidy, who greets Nick by punching him in the face. See, Cassidy is undercover, and needs to preserve his undercover status. (Um, ok. Seems his undercover persona might have taken over his psyche a bit too much.)
We soon learn that all the girls at the party were escorts. And there’s a vicious war going on between two rival escort agencies. Cassidy’s boss, Genzel, supplied the escorts to the bachelor party. But a female madam, Delia, has been the leading supplier of expensive sex in NY for a long time. She doesn’t like the up-and-coming challenger to her throne. So, maybe, she arranged to have the 16-year-old killed to frame Genzel.
Dispute resolution in the escort world can be vicious. They can’t really call the cops, so they have to get creative.
Our detectives go to talk to Delia. She lives on a farm, wears a flannel shirt, and looks like a frizzy Everymom, feeding a baby goat a bottle of milk. (Goats again! This has been the Season Of The Goat on SVU. There was even an @SVUgoat who appeared on Twitter tonight, tweeting – or bleating – some of most hilarious SVU tweets ever.) Delia claims she’s just a simple goat-cheese maker / soccer mom who dabbles in matchmaking.
And the case might have ended right there. But then someone slips under the door pictures of Captain Cragen canoodling with a Russian mail-order bride/escort from last season. Although that was a totally legit undercover operation, Cragen says he’s recusing himself and the SVU from the case. Olivia’s puzzled scowl doesn’t last long, because she’s then called to investigate an ex-governor who died in the middle of a massage. He was also poisoned with scopolamine. That is not a happy ending.
Questioning the woman who booked the governor’s massage, our detectives soon gather enough evidence to arrest Delia. The judge orders her held on $2 million bail – but her attorney puts up his house to bail her out. The defense attorney sneers at our heroes, “She has the goods on everyone you work for or ever will.”
The next morning, Cragen wakes up with blood all over his hands. An escort with her throat slit is lying in bed next to him.
Fade to “Dick Wolf” and our final dun dun of the season. What?? That’s the end? Even the Godfather gave us the closure of knowing who killed that horse. I can’t believe we have to wait until Season 14 to find out what happens with Cragen.
What they got right:
At first, I thought this was going to be about the Secret Service / Colombian prostitutes scandal. But those Secret Service agents at the party were just a tip of the hat to that case.
This episode was primarily about the real-life case of Anna Gristina, also known as the “Millionaire Madam” or the “Soccer Mom Madam.” She’s charged with running NY’s most elite escort agency. Some think her little black book holds the dirty little secrets of some of the most powerful men in America. And some wonder if corrupt police officers helped her run her business.
Like the madam on tonight’s show, Gristina has a gaggle of kids and summered on a farm in upstate New York. (She has a fondness for potbellied pigs rather than goats.) She was also ordered held on $2 million bail, for which her defense attorney made the extraordinary offer of his townhouse as collateral (in real life, that fell through, and she’s still in Rikers). And Gristina had a famous rivalry with the self-proclaimed “King of All Pimps,” Jason Itzler.
According to the New York Daily News, Itzler described Gristina as “the most vindictive b***h ever in the escorting game,” and said she is: “Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.”
Another thing the episode got right was that the police have tracked breast implants to find the identity of murder victims before. The most famous case involved the murder of Playboy bunny Jasmine Fiore, who was strangled and stuffed in a suitcase. Her body was so badly mutilated, she was unidentifiable. But tracking the serial numbers of her breast implants, the police could learn her name, address, phone number, and Social Security number, as well as the contact information for her surgeon and primary-care doctor.
What they got wrong:
These guys threw the most elaborate bachelor party of all time … and video-taped all eight hours of it? In my experience, the type of guests who flee on an elevator after a body is found are also the type who do not record hours of illegal sex among their VIP friends.
Poor Nick got a bad rap tonight. First he was clocked by Mayhem itself. But then he was mocked for talking to the blond escort. Just because she was flirting with him didn’t mean he had to stop listening to her. To the contrary, some of the best information police get is from women who are flirting with them.
Cragen didn’t have to recuse himself because there were photos of him doing an undercover prostitution sting. That was either the flimsiest excuse ever … or Cragen is corrupt. And I can’t believe that of our sweet, earnest captain. Even if he does have blood all over his hands.
Rivals madams may beef with each other, but not to this extent. They threaten. They rat each other out. They may even hurt each other. But they don’t kill escorts and plant them in each other’s beds. Or – especially – the police chief’s bed. I’m not saying they’re above that. It would simply be bad for business.
Well, SVU fans, that’s all the episodes for the season – but there’s still lots of fun ahead this summer.
If you like my blog – or, hell, even if you don’t like it – please buy my novel, DISCRETION. Coincidentally, it is about the investigation of a high-priced escort who’s killed at the U.S. Capitol, and was inspired by my work as a sex-crimes prosecutor and some real cases. It’s been getting great advance reviews. I would especially appreciate if you would pre-order it today. Pre-orders mean a lot to authors. And I would love to hear your comments on what I got right and wrong!
Meanwhile, stop by the blog over the summer. I love hearing from you. And I have some great pieces lined up:
– Top 10 Lessons from SVU That May Save Your Life
– Best and Worst Moments of SVU Season 13
– Why We Love and Hate Crime Dramas
– An original e-short story, TEN RULES FOR A CALL GIRL, that I’m really excited to share with you
– Great guest bloggers
– Interviews of bestselling crime writers and TV show writers
– Reality-checks of the summer blockbuster movies
I’ll be posting every Monday. Keep stopping by!