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Pimptastic: Madam’s Trial in Paris is Largest in Years

The trial of a British woman accused of running a prostitution ring with 430 employees using a cell phone and laptop computers is heating up to be the most outrageous in years.

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At her peak, police say, 430 prostitutes worked for Margaret MacDonald.

Margaret MacDonald spent many years in luxury hotels, but soon she may be spending 15 in prison.

Madam MacDonald, 43, was arrested in May 2002 for leading a huge prostitution ring with a stable of over 400 call girls and 30 male prostitutes, making her case the largest in recent French memory. Her trial, now underway in Paris, has been one of the most talked about of the season – promising tales of celebrity smut and intrigue.

She’s been charged with "aggravated procuring for the purpose of prostitution." On Wednesday, 23-year-old Laura Schleich spoke to the court. Schleich is the informant who originally turned in MacDonald, who operated under the name "Nicky," providing evidence on the part of her ring in Germany that led to her arrest.

Another witness, however, is expected to back up MacDonald’s claim that she’d only been running a dating agency for top business leaders. What they did after the dates, MacDonald has maintained, was none of her business.

Police are saying they found lists of prostitutes and clients on a laptop computer belonging to MacDonald. They seized four mobile phones and five mobile phone chips as well, which had names from as far afield as the United States and Israel. They say she operated in Austria, Britain, France, and Italy – and that she lived in fancy hotels and made appointments over the Internet.

Prosecutors allege that her clients charged as much as a €1,000 per hour, with MacDonald taking a 40 percent cut.

MacDonald’s background is as jeweled as the clients she’d been serving. Convent-educated, she came to Paris to study at a top business school and at the Sorbonne. She speaks eight languages, including Japanese and Arabic. In court it was said that while she was in prison after her arrest, she studied Croatian to wile away the time. Police described her as "classy, sophisticated, and successful" and said her apprehension in May 2002 was "our biggest pimping arrest for many years."

Following her arrest, Parisian tabloids, consumed with her biography, sought out names of celebrity clients they believe were written in her "little black book." Rumors are that the celebrities’ names will soon be publicly released. MacDonald is even being compared to another famous Parisian madam, Madame Claude, who fled to the United States in the 1960s because she owed $1 million (€0.8 million) in taxes.

Madame Claude then became an admired French national figure and published her memoirs. London’s Guardian newspaper quoted one source from the Parisian vice squad as saying: "She had a dozen mobile phones, a portable computer and a Web site. You have to take your hat off to her." If the allegations are proved, there will no doubt be stories of more than just headwear being removed.