The identity of yet another of Heidi Fleiss’ johns was put to rest Thursday as federal court jurors were shown tape of a sweating, fidgeting Charlie Sheen testifying that he had ordered call girls from the Hollywood madam at least 27 times.
Pausing repeatedly to mop his brow and sip ice water, the star of “Platoon” and “The Three Musketeers” identified seven checks he said he gave to prostitutes between December, 1991, and February, 1993, including one for a woman he hired on Christmas Day. Sheen added that he had solicited so-called “Heidi girls” at least 20 other times, paying cash, and said he had bypassed the madam at least 10 more times and called the prostitutes himself.
The checks ranged from $1,500 to $3,000; most were made out to “cash,” although one was made out to Fleiss herself and one had been left blank and later filled in with the name of Fleiss’ sister, Shana, Sheen said.
The money--totaling more than $50,000--was for “sexual services,” the square-jawed leading man said, adding pointedly, “ heterosexual services.”
The testimony--given under grant of immunity and videotaped in advance so as not to disrupt production of Sheen’s latest film--drew gasps and muffled giggles from the standing-room-only courtroom audience. It was, however, only one of several dramatic developments in a day that was capped by a shouting match between prosecutors and defense lawyers and a court order placing Fleiss’ sister under house arrest.
Fleiss, who was convicted late last year in state court on charges of felony pandering, is now being tried in U.S. District Court on federal charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
The government says the 29-year-old daughter of a Los Feliz pediatrician made hundreds of thousands of dollars from her call-girl ring and avoided taxes by laundering the proceeds. Among other things, prosecutors contend that she set up her father, Dr. Paul Fleiss, as the straw purchaser of her $1.6-million Benedict Canyon home, and funneled cash and checks from her business into a savings account held by her father and sister Shana by forging their endorsements or persuading them to make the deposits on her behalf.
Paul Fleiss has already pleaded guilty to three felony counts of income tax evasion, admitting that he conspired with Heidi to conceal her income over three years, and that he made false statements to the bank that held the mortgage to the house. Prosecutors say he is likely to receive a sentence of four to 10 months and a fine of $50,000 when he is sentenced this fall.
Assistant U.S. Attys. Mark Holscher and Alejandro Majorkas said Shana Fleiss, 27, also admitted involvement in the alleged money laundering in statements she made to them last fall. But they declined to prosecute her, Holscher said, when she agreed to testify in the case.
Close to Heidi in both looks and age, Shana has said that her relationship with her famous sister has been a complicated one, involving both the hero-worship of a shy kid sister and the resentment of a middle child who believed her mother loved Heidi best. As a teen-ager, she was crippled in a Jeep accident in which Heidi was at the wheel. But when Heidi was arrested and later mobbed by the press, it was Shana who refused to leave her side.
The strain of Heidi’s downfall, she has said, drove her to accept some heroin from people she met during those publicity-soaked days, and within months she became addicted. In December, three days after Shana was granted immunity, she signed a seven-page sworn statement for the government. Prosecutors say it details her knowledge of her sister’s prostitution ring and describes how she, her father and her sister hid Heidi’s ill-gotten gains.
Shana--now nervous, gaunt and enrolled in a methadone program--was to have been a key witness for the prosecution, Holscher told the judge. But early this week, when she was called to the stand, Shana crumbled before the jury, weeping and mumbling incoherently as she sought to make eye contact with her big sister, who sat somberly looking at her hands.
When her mother, schoolteacher Elissa Fleiss, walked into the courtroom, Shana began to sob. The mother was ushered out--as a potential defense witness she was not supposed to have been in court anyway. But Shana never regained her composure, and, after several questions that elicited only elliptical answers, she finally cried out that she was not only unable to collect herself, but unable to testify against Heidi at all.
By Thursday, she had announced that she had changed lawyers and was taking back her promise to testify. “Blood is thicker than water,” she said in an interview. But the move left U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall no choice but to place her in contempt of court, and the argument over her punishment ended in a shouting match.
At one point, Heidi Fleiss’ lawyer, Robert C. Bonner--a former Drug Enforcement Administration official and former federal judge--told the judge that the government “brought extreme pressure against [Shana] . . . and threatened imprisonment” in their efforts to persuade her to testify. Her addiction, Bonner said, “was probably exacerbated by the government"--a statement that prompted Holscher to leap to his feet in outrage, shouting, “Don’t you ever accuse me of that!”
Judge Marshall eventually ordered Shana confined to her home, where she is to be electronically monitored.
Sheen’s testimony was the latest revelation in a trial that has put to rest two years of rumors about the identities of Fleiss’ prostitutes and their reputedly rich and famous clientele. Since Fleiss’ arrest in June, 1993--and the subsequent confiscation of her so-called black book--the madam has periodically joked about releasing her client list, and attractive young women claiming to be her employees have sold stories to the tabloids about their paid sexual encounters with movie stars.
But her state trial--which earned her a three-year prison sentence--came and went last year without the revelation of a single name. It was not until the federal government delved into her financial records as part of its tax evasion probe that the customers’ identities began to surface.
Fleiss, as it turned out, had taken checks, and to prove their case against her, federal prosecutors subpoenaed several of the men on whose accounts they were drawn.
Prosecutors say they have checks from at least 10 customers, but so far, only three have testified, all under a grant of limited immunity: former Denver Nuggets owner Sidney Shlenker, Mexican businessman Manuel Santos and, on Thursday, actor Sheen, who is, so far, the best known.
In his taped testimony, Sheen, 29, said he is now engaged--a statement that drew a smile from convicted madam Fleiss. In interviews, Fleiss’ former call girls have said Sheen routinely asked them to marry him, but under oath the actor said he could not remember the names of any of the prostitutes with whom he had sex.
He said that he typically paid each prostitute $2,000 to $3,000 per night and shifted uncomfortably as he was shown the canceled checks.
“Sheeesh,” the actor sighed, “it’s starting to add up.”
Sheen said he never paid Heidi directly, but had ordered the prostitutes to his Agoura Hills home by phone, discussing “time, place, type, age and finances.” He did not know, however, whether Heidi ever got a cut of the money.
Outside court, Sheen’s spokesman, Jeff Ballard, read a statement on behalf of the actor: “I apologize to my family, my future wife, my close friends, for any embarrassment these incidents may have caused. I offer no other explanation for my actions, only the truth, which is contained in detail within my testimony. They wouldn’t call it ‘the past’ if it wasn’t.”