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Madam I Am 

Raeshel Keavy ran one of the city's most sophisticated and profitable prostitution rings. She was safe until she strayed from San Francisco.

Wednesday, Feb 3 1999
At half-past 7 on the evening of June 3, 1998, Raeshel Keavy left her office on California Street, and drove to the Pan Pacific Hotel in Union Square. It was a routine by which you could mark the calendar. Every Wednesday evening, Keavy took a room at one of San Francisco's high-dollar hotels, the St. Francis in Union Square, the Holiday Inn in Chinatown, the Hilton, or the Pan Pacific.

Valets at the Pan Pacific this night -- young men familiar with the tips that follow a good performance -- jumped immediately to Keavy's assistance. She was, after all, a regular customer. Tall, thin, and well-dressed, Keavy wore the distinct look of power and money. She arrived with a bag, a briefcase, and a laptop computer, and went directly up to the room her assistant had already arranged.

To look at her, Keavy could easily have been a young lawyer, an emissary of some faraway corporate sales force, perhaps a financial adviser come to the city to close a deal. But she was none of those.

Raeshel Keavy was the proprietor of one of the Bay Area's largest, and most expensive, prostitution operations. Using various names for her escort services, she employed as many as 80 people at any one time, logged more than 14,000 clients, and grossed more than $1 million a year.

Tonight, Keavy was not alone. The men in the lobby, the derelict-looking fellow on the street, the driver of the car that followed her in traffic, all were watching her. They'd been watching for months.

Upstairs, in a room on the 10th floor, Keavy opened her laptop computer. She laid out neat piles of blank credit card slips and business cards, supplies she would give her employees. She explained each step to her assistant, Marc Dudgeon, a man most people in the business knew as "Devon." Keavy was leaving soon for a European vacation, and Dudgeon would handle this routine while she was gone.

A steady stream of women visited Keavy's room as the evening wore on. They knew her as Renee, Keavy's middle name, the one she'd used for business since the days when she herself was an escort. One by one, the women sat next to the boss and reviewed their business. They paid Keavy receipts from the week before, and she wrote each of them a check for their share. A petite, attractive Asian woman entered the room and waited her turn. She was a new girl. She was also an undercover cop.

Keavy paused to answer the phone. A voice on the other end told her that one of her employees had been stopped by security downstairs. And someone had seen police in the alcove outside. Discreetly, Keavy passed a note under the desk to her assistant, telling him to return to the office and fetch her attorney's phone number, just in case. Dudgeon left the hotel, but never made it back to the office. He was arrested en route.

Sometime around 10 p.m. there was a knock at the door. A handful of San Jose police officers, decked out in dark windbreakers, burst into the room. The police grabbed Keavy's computer before she could.

Keavy was busted.
While police imposed order on the chaos in the hotel room, another drama was unfolding on California Street. The office of Corporate Event Services was located upstairs in a building between Polk and Larkin streets. One of Keavy's bookers was answering calls and dispatching escorts.

It's safe to say that she panicked. While officers jimmied a lock on the wrought-iron gate downstairs, the booker jumped out a back window and skedaddled. Frankly, the suburban cops hadn't even known there was a back window. But the booker left behind what the cops really wanted. In her flight, she neglected to trigger a program that would have wiped out the company's computer records.

Back at the Pan Pacific, 10 women, now in handcuffs, were being interviewed by police. Keavy was taken to a separate room, where she and her chief pursuer finally met.

It's easy to surmise that San Jose Police Sgt. Ken Willey became a cop because he looks so much like one -- a big guy with short hair who is fond of the jeans-and-sneakers uniform cops wear when they're not wearing a uniform. Keavy didn't know this vice cop from San Jose, but he certainly knew her.

For more than six months, Willey and his officers had been investigating Keavy's business, which is to say her life. The San Jose cops tailed her, watched her home and her office, infiltrated her ranks, and slowly pieced together Keavy's operation. It was no small task -- Keavy was good. But, in the end, Willey was better.

Keavy was not about to let Willey see her sweat. She was calm and confident, politely defiant. If her escorts were having sex with clients, Keavy told the police, she certainly knew nothing about it. In fact, she'd fire anyone who was. But whatever happened between an escort and a client, she added, was really none of her concern.

As she tried to make sense of the situation, the wheels apparently were spinning inside Keavy's brain. How had this happened? And why was she being busted in a San Francisco hotel room by cops from San Jose?

Keavy started quizzing the cops. She questioned the validity of their search warrant. And, in a moment of exasperation, Keavy gave voice to the question she'd been privately pondering since the police burst through the door.

"Why me?"

Sex has been a thriving industry here since the days of the Barbary Coast, as much a part of the Bay Area's landscape as cable cars and bridges. The city's most famous madam, Sally Stanford, was elected mayor of Sausalito back in 1976. San Francisco's current mayor began his legal career defending prostitutes. District Attorney Terence Hallinan has long extolled the benefits of legalizing prostitution. And, Margo St. James, a former prostitute turned advocate, was very nearly elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1996. A decidedly liberal attitude toward the world's oldest profession is embedded in the city's culture.

About The Author

Lisa Davis


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