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Thoroughly Modern Madam

Behind the tawdry headlines about her Frederick escort service and its little black book, Angelika Potter is an entrepreneur who has learned 'marketing is everything.'

April 24, 2001|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

It was 1995, and Corporate Affair was born. She told her parents over Christmas, during a visit to Germany, and while dear old dad was far from thrilled, his business instincts soon took over.

"You need an accountant," he told her. "You need an attorney, a bail bondsman." And so on.

But mostly what she needed was customers. So she and her partner raided the opposition, printing business cards and handing them out every evening outside the French Connection.

"Every time a guy would come out we'd say, by the way, we're a new service here in town. We only have the youngest girls in the city, the most beautiful girls. None is over the age of 25, and we are a lot more expensive, but we are worth it. Grin, grin. Wink, wink ... Business starts booming. And we start advertising."

Police later threw her ads back in her face, saying they showed she'd been in the business for ages.

"I said, `Duh. It's called marketing.' You think I'm going to go into the paper and say, `Brand new escort service, we're all idiots, give us a try?' No. We have to put out, `Experienced, European, classy ladies just relocated to beautiful downtown Frederick.' "

By then she'd met her second husband, and in 1996 they discovered the Internet.

"I learned in a hurry everything there was about computers. We needed new markets. Frederick was tapped out. I mean, every day we'd see the same ... people. We started with a basement URL, one came free with your MSN account. Then we bought a domain."

They chatted up techies, pumping them for information, and soon www.steffiecam.com was born, eventually offering not only live video but hundreds of stills of just about anything you could imagine Steffie doing. To get access to the most revealing stuff you have to pay with your credit card. The venture was so lucrative that Potter began winding down the escort trade, announcing on her site that Corporate Affair would close when its lease ran out in September 1999.

But Frederick police had been staking out the place for months, and the bust came that July. Police raided Potter's home, too, seizing computers and other equipment. It was soon apparent to prosecutors that there were problems with the case. A Potter employee turned out to be a stepdaughter of one of the Frederick County state's attorney's investigators, so a Montgomery County prosecutor had to take over. In addition, one of the star witnesses, a disgruntled employee, stated that Potter only arranged the liaisons, telling her workers that what they did with the clients was strictly up to them.

Potter pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor crime of maintaining a "place of assignation," which could mean either a bawdy house or a trysting place for lovers. She paid a $100 fine and received probation before judgment. The police returned her computers and business records, keeping a copy for themselves. And that likely would have been that if someone hadn't then made an anonymous phone call to Charlene Edmonds, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Controversy lingers

The caller accused the police of using their copy of Potter's client list to blackmail various local officials. Frederick police had already been caught spying on Edmonds earlier in the year, resulting in a two-week suspension of Police Chief Regis R. Raffensberger. The unveiling of that fiasco had also begun with an anonymous phone call to Edmonds. So, when Edmonds repeated the "black book" charge at a local meeting late last year, all hell broke loose, and it has yet to stop.

The News Post and the Associated Press sued to get Potter's list. Friday, the NAACP called for a grand jury investigation of the police and mayor's handling of the matter. While Potter has the original records back in her computer, the copy remains in a safe at the Frederick County courthouse.

"People call me and say I will burn in hell," Potter said. "They say, `We will be watching you.' "

And they may well be. Even as she conducts an interview in her home office, she continues to do business. There is a video camera in the room, she said, poking a few papers aside to reveal a tiny camera perched on her desk. She then clicks a few times on the computer behind her to prove the point, arriving at the "office cam" site on her Web page.

Sure enough, there she is, chatting away, mouse in hand.

Video cameras, in fact, are up and running at several locations in her house.

"Hey," Potter said, flashing her Steffie smile. "Marketing is everything."

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