An 1892 caricature shows New Orleans' notorious Emma Johnson luring passersby into her house of ill repute.

John Edwards is making headlines, again, for allegedly being a … john. The New York City crime news site DNAinfo reports that a prostitute claims she serviced Edwards while working for Anna Gristina, the “Millionaire Madam,” during one of Edward’s campaign fundraising trips to the city in 2007.

You may recall that, after his unsuccessful run for president in 2004 (and his appearance as veep on the Democratic ticket that year) John Edwards quickly looked ahead to the next election in 2008. Despite announcing his second candidacy in New Orleans, Edwards lost to Barack Obama. After he dropped out, there were rumors that Edwards would fancy being Obama’s attorney general. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because little has gone well for Edwards during the past four years. He was forced to admit that he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife. Then last year he pleaded not guilty “to federal charges that he solicited and secretly spent more than $925,000 to hide his mistress and their baby from the public at the height of his 2008 White House campaign.”

Now there are reports that Edwards “cheated” on his mistress:

Edwards is the first public figure attached to Gristina’s “black book,” which sits at the heart of her alleged $15-million prostitution ring. Gristina, also dubbed the “Soccer Mom Madam,” has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of promoting prostitution.

Soccer Mom Madam? What did she do, cart her working girls around in a mini-van?

The DNAinfo story claims that

Gristina’s reputed “black book” client list allegedly contains powerful, wealthy, politically-connected and influential players, according to sources familiar with her estimated $15 million New York prostitution empire.

[The investigation] started in 2008 with the humble arrest of a 20-something woman hauled in on a criminal charge not related to prostitution.

The woman volunteered that she was secretly a high-end hooker working for a “Millionaire Madam” who repeatedly bragged of having law enforcement and a cadre of powerbrokers in her pocket.

Well, then. Remember back in 2007, when the case of Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam” made big news? Palfrey had conducted business for over a decade and had records of 15,000 client’s phone numbers. Many of Palfrey’s clients were likely “powerful, wealthy and politically-connected,” too. Yet only a scant few names from the black book were ever publicized. The most famous, of course, was David Vitter, Louisiana’s own junior senator.

Before appearing at the trial, one of Palfrey’s working girls hanged herself. Then, after being convicted and sentenced to 55 years for racketeering and prostitution, Palfrey also hanged herself, apparently to avoid prison. At the time, investigative reporter Dan Moldea remarked, “You have to remember that all those who worked for her service and those who used it — none of them were held to account, or punished. And now, she is dead.”

Similarly, New Orleanians may recall Jeanette Maier, New Orleans’ “Canal Street Madam,” who I referred to in my previous post. Federal prosecutors charged women involved in the prostitution ring, but let their (male) clients off the hook. Very few names have ever surfaced, though news reports confirm Maier’s claim that “the Canal Street Brothel … had 500 customers, including doctors, judges, lawyers and many, many politicians.”

Some wonder why the johns never get charged and rarely get embarrassed, when a house of prostitution falls. Well, the simple answer seems to be: too many powerful men are in on it! The powerful and well-connected have an incentive to let these high-end prostitution networks expand and prosper because if enough doctors, lawyers and political chieftains are involved, then who’s going to cry foul? It’s like the old stag parties and orgies from, say, 50 years ago – it’s not really a crime worth worrying about if enough bigwigs are debauching themselves.

And those who don’t know the “rules” get set straight real quick:

“What the f— do you think you’re doing? You stupid son of a b—-, you Uptown a–hole, what the f— do you think you’re doing? If you and your men are not out of here in the next minute, you and every g-ddamned cop in here is fired.”

– New Orleans Mayor DeLesseps “Chep” Morrison on the occasion of having his stag party raided by Superintendent of Police Provosty Dayries in the 1950’s. As quoted by Christine Wiltz. (Cited by Matthew Randazzo V, in his book “Mr. New Orleans,” p 221).

And when a client or former sex worker does get pinched for an unrelated crime and squeals about a brothel to ease their punishment … the game still plays out the same as ever. The Madams go to prison (or kill themselves), and at most only one or two of their former big-name johns are ever publicly embarrassed.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...