In 2010, during the Louisiana Senate race between then-Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon and Republican incumbent David Vitter, I was approached by a political operative with a tip that Vitter may have engaged in a long-term relationship with a prostitute working under the alias of “London Rayne.”
Within a few weeks I was able to make contact with London who denied knowing Vitter, much less servicing him. But after gaining her trust, London told me about “the industry” in New Orleans and Louisiana, which led me down a six-year path researching relationships between politicians and prostitutes as well as the nature of the sex industry in Louisiana.
What I discovered was a pattern of women whose lives were destroyed by their relationships with male politicians. In fact, a disturbing number of these women died at an early age under mysterious circumstances. “Politricking,” as Jeanette Maier, the former madam of the infamous New Orleans Canal Street Brothel, refers to it, is a dangerous proposition for working girls.
Dead ends and a new twist to an old story
Last year Senator Vitter decided to run for governor and was favored to win easily. By early Spring I was getting a stream of tips about his alleged involvement with prostitutes, which was first reported back in 2007 by Hustler, which revealed his ties to the “DC Madam,” Debra Jean Palfrey.
While Vitter denied having anything to do with prostitutes in Louisiana and didn’t actually admit to using Palfrey’s escort service, he apologized for having “committed a serious sin” and seamlessly continued his political career.
I decided to run down every lead to see if any of it was legit or if it all was rumors spread by dirty tricks operators, a time-honored tradition in Louisiana. One story I chased down involved Vitter’s admitted ties to Palfrey. Unlike Vitter, who suffered no real consequences for his actions, Palfrey was charged with running a prostitution ring after the Vitter story broke and committed suicide awaiting prosecution.
Vitter had allegedly favored one of Palfrey’s escorts named Paula Neebles, but when I tracked her down — she’d changed her name after the DC Madam scandal broke — she denied having ever met Vitter.
A series of other tips went nowhere, but I finally got more solid information when I was able to track down an old story regarding a former prostitute named Wendy Ellis with the help of a local private investigator, Danny Denoux.
I’d been told by another former escort that Wendy — who formerly went by the last name of Cortez and who had been the focus of the famous 2007 Hustler story that originally outed Vitter’s dalliances with prostitutes — had had a long-term relationship with Vitter that resulted in a pregnancy. She agreed to a video interview in which she claimed she not only was impregnated by Vitter but she had put the child up for adoption despite his plea for her to have an abortion.
Vitter declined an interview request made through his lawyer, Jim Garner, who threatened legal action against me if I published the interview with Wendy. Meanwhile, Vitter hired a private eye to compile a dossier on me and try to discredit my reporting.
I ran the story anyway because I felt it was important to expose the Senator’s hypocrisy. Vitter has close ties to the Louisiana Family Forum, a powerful state lobbying organization that promotes a “family values” religious agenda. In fact, the president of the LFF, Gene Mills, absolved Vitter of his alleged sins during the 2007 scandal, claiming the Senator had repented and “sought forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling.”
Shortly afterwards, Vitter earmarked $100,000 for LFF in a federal spending bill. (The money was later stripped out of the bill as it moved through congress.)
A shadow of doubt
Critical elements of Wendy’s story had changed after she originally spoke with Hustler. “Hustler told the story they wanted to tell, not what I actually told them,” she explained when I asked about the inconsistencies.
The story Wendy told me — dates, time frames, names — matched up nearly precisely with the account told to me by my original confidential source, the former escort and friend of Wendy’s. (She said she and Wendy had not spoken since 2006 and repeatedly asked me to put her in touch, but I refused until I was able to interview Wendy and see if their stories matched up.)
I believed the story Wendy told me in the interview was mostly accurate and deserved public exposure, but it was greeted with skepticism by many local and national outlets when I published it. However, key parts were subsequently corroborated when Kevin Allman, publisher of the New Orleans weekly magazine The Gambit, interviewed a barber who remembered seeing Vitter coming and going from the very same French Quarter residence where Wendy claimed they would meet.
The barber, Ricky Ketchum, had a shop caddy-corner to Wendy’s apartment. He confirmed seeing Vitter at the residence during precisely the period Wendy claimed to have carried on her relationship with him.
There was another rumor I was determined to chase down involving Jeanette Maier, the Canal Street Madame. In a 2008 radio interview with New Orleans journalist Jeff Croure, Maier suggested that she had serviced David Vitter during the Canal Street brothel days, the mid-1990’s.
When I called Jeanette in 2010 she was reluctant to speak about Vitter though she did discuss being repeatedly paid for services by the current Louisiana Lieutenant Governor, Billy Nungesser. But last year Maier told me on camera that she had sent three escorts to a party on St. Charles Avenue in 1996. Two of the escorts came back from the party and told Jeanette they had sex with Vitter, who was a Louisiana state representative at the time. One of those escorts was then 27-year-old Michelle Mosgrove.
One year later, on August 7, 1997, Mosgrove turned up dead from an alleged self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. Her body was discovered on a luxury boat, the “Aera,” docked in Biloxi, Mississippi. Her death was ruled a suicide.
The boat was owned by a man named Willam Andre Droulia, who went by the nickname “Big D” or “Big Daddy.” Big D was a well known figure among New Orleans escorts, particularly those that worked in the French Quarter, where he resided. Acquaintances said he lived a chaotic, violent life, and had at least one brush with the law involving his reported prolific drug use. My sources told me Mosgrove was a favorite escort of Big D’s and that she considered him her “sugar daddy.”
Five sources I spoke to who knew Mosgrove, including Wendy Ellis, all doubted the official story of suicide and suspected foul play. When I asked why someone would have wanted her dead, they unanimously agreed it was because she knew too much and “couldn’t keep her mouth shut.”
For example, several of the sources said Michelle may have witnessed the murder of an escort on the second floor of a Bourbon Street club owned by a Droulia associate known as “Jack.” According to sources, Jack — who I have been unable to identify — was a former officer with the New Orleans Police Department and was the proprietor of the escort service Wendy Ellis worked for when she claimed Vitter was her client.
(Incidentally, police involvement with prostitution in New Orleans is nothing new.)
Through a public records request, I obtained the Biloxi Police Department’s official report of Mosgrove’s alleged suicide but the names of at least two and possibly three witnesses had been redacted. The report states that the owner of the boat (presumably “Big Daddy” Droulia) found the victim “inside his boat with an aparent (sic) gunshot wound to the head.” Four supplemental pages marked as “narrative” were withheld by the Biloxi police.
There are a number of possible links between Vitter and Droulia, which are of interest here. For example, Droulia was an heir to the Helis Oil and Gas Company, an entity whose interests Senator Vitter has championed throughout his political career. That includes a recent battle Helis has been waging with citizens of St. Tammany to allow the company to frack for natural gas in the parish.
More alarmingly, Wendy Ellis told me that approximately a year after Michelle was found dead on the Aera, she was on the boat with Vitter and Droulia and asked Vitter if he knew that Michelle had died on it. Vitter, she said, told her that he was on board that night and fled the scene to avoid a scandal, which raises the possibility that his name was redacted from the Biloxi police report.
Vitter refused my request for an interview on the matter and I have not been able to locate a second witness to substantiate Ellis’s claims. Droulia is deceased and I have been unable to identify the redacted names of any of the witnesses in the police report.
I can’t confirm Wendy’s account and while it’s possible she’s lying, there are a lot of uncertainties about the case. There are clearly grounds to believe that Michelle’s death — while on board a boat with a man known for violence and cocaine abuse — was not a suicide. It’s also hard to understand why the Biloxi police continue to withhold information about Michelle’s death, particularly the names of witnesses.
In lieu of an interview, I publicly asked David Vitter five questions regarding Mosgrove’s death:
1/ What, if any, was the nature of your relationship with William Andre Droulia in the 1990’s and/or with Helis Oil and Gas?
2/ Did you know Michelle Mosgrove and were you a client of hers? Did you (or someone else) pay her so you could have sex with her at a party on St. Charles Avenue circa 1996?
3/ Were you ever on the boat, the “Aera”?
4/ Were you ever on the boat, the “Aera”, with Wendy Ellis aka Wendy Cortez?
5/ Do you have any firsthand information about the death of Michelle Mosgrove on December 7, 1997?
I have received no answer to date.
Incidentally, Vitter had a 20-point lead according to some polls in the months leading up to the governor’s race, before news of his involvement with prostitutes resurfaced. He plummeted in the polls afterwards and was defeated by his Democratic opponent, John Bel Edwards. He will be voluntarily stepping down from the senate in January.