A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

By:  Bethany Bultman

Before Governor Jeff Landry embarks on his “clean up New Orleans” promises (or veiled threats) in preparation for hosting the Super Bowl LIX on February 9, 2025, there are a few moral potholes he may wish to repair.  Fortunately, he has his New Orleans’ task force to instruct him on how deeply New Orleanians’ esteem our checkered Creole history, our Catholic city’s myriad contradictions when it comes to moral failings, our German heritage of relishing schadenfreude, and our Protestant pride in calling out hypocrisy.

As Louisiana’s former Attorney General, Landry knows well that under Louisiana law, prostitution remains illegal. It is illegal for people who pay for sex acts and those who perform these services for money. 

Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:14:82 “Whoever commits the crime of prostitution shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”

This holds true for Louisiana and in the United States (notable exception, Nevada). Yet, prostitution is arguably the Vieux Carre’s second oldest profession. It is a time-honored custom that the names of the professional ladies are printed in the local news. Yet a journalistic fig leaf is afforded to the “johns”, especially if they are prominent citizens.

Unlike the Las Vegas’ promise to its visitors: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” those coming to the French Quarter for Superbowl LIX may need to receive a different warning.  As former local mob boss Carlos Marcello (1910-1993) famously advised, “the only way to keep a secret between two people is if one of them is dead.” Just because a “john’s name” is protected by our press from public scrutiny, beware: the wages of sin in New Orleans are a public shaming. Perhaps Landry’s team can share a helpful reminder with visitors. “New Orleans: where your darkest secrets come to flourish.” To be fair they should probably add, “and like vampires, will refuse to stay buried.”

Fortunately, Governor Landry has a knowledgeable advisor as to cleavage in our moral code. Kyle Ruckert, recently stepped up from Executive Director of in  Landry’s Transition Team to become his Chief of Staff. It is his previous jobs that puts Ruckert in the pole position as an advisor.  This former Chief of Staff for Senator David Vitter (2005-2017) and the Vitter for Governor Campaign Manager (May 2015-Dec 2015) can attest that prostitution in the French Quarter does not have any statute of limitations when it comes to the lash of the Bible belt. 

A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

 We know that philandering politicians are a dime a dozen in Louisiana. But you cross a line when the philandering involves claiming the moral high ground. Ruckert’s former boss, David Vitter’s salacious tale took sixteen years of prevarication to land its blow. His illegal French Quarter sex for hire transaction occurred from July-November 1999 in a cozy apartment on the corner of Dumaine and Dauphine. His chosen professional went by the name of “Leah,” a stripper with a lengthy criminal record who was an employee of the New Orleans Escort Service.

Our “john” had laudable credentials: Magna Cum Laude Harvard (1983), Rhodes Scholar (1985), and law degree from Tulane (1988).  He had no intention of tarnishing his brilliant career with tawdry acts in the French Quarter! His driver dropped him off blocks away from his trysts with “Leah”.  He made it very clear to his 30-year-old, $300 an hour partner from the onset, “NO Perfume, NO Photos.”  To be sure there was no evidence, our “john” took his used condoms away with him.

By 2002 The Louisiana Weekly got wind of the relationship. They broke the story that “Leah, ” a prostitute named Wendy Yow Ellis (Cortez) was doing business in the French Quarter with a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. In fact, while David Vitter was actively committing adultery; he was campaigning in a special election which he won, succeeding Republican U.S. Representative Bob Livingston, who’d resigned after disclosing that he’d committed adultery. As a matter of fact, our “john” was re-elected with more than 80 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2002 in what had become a reliable Republican district, mainly St. Tammany and Jefferson Parishes.

With this level of political capital, things would have turned out far differently for our “john” had he proposed de-criminalizing sex for hire in Louisiana. Instead, in 2003,  staying true to his faulty moral compass, Louisiana’s rising conservative political  star proposed to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In 2004, he stated, “This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history…We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts values.”  (Fortunately, Massachusetts values won that vote.)

It wasn’t until the campaign in 2004 that the former French Quarter “john” was accused of having had a lengthy affair with a prostitute. This time, the finger pointer was a member of his own party (on the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee); to which this champion of ethics, opponent of gambling, upstanding married father of four responded that the allegation was “absolutely and completely untrue.”

A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

Thus without missing a beat, our “john” was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004,  where he became the first Republican  popularly elected to represent Louisiana in the Senate since the Reconstruction Era. Once again, he could have proposed de-criminalizing sex between consenting adults. Timing being everything.

Oooops, then the noted national investigative reporter Dan E. Moldea uncovered this Louisiana Republican’s cell phone number five times in phone records (1999-2001) of “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeanne Palfrey.  (She was convicted of running a Washington, D.C. prostitution ring, racketeering, and money laundering on April 15, 2008.)

To be perfectly clear, no arrests of any of the “johns” in this scandal were ever made. But, the slow-burning scandal sold many newspapers and magazines. Moldea’s revelation hit the national and local news. That’s when New Orleans’ “Canal Street Madam” Jeannette Maier felt compelled to praise the disgraced Louisiana politician to WDSU- TV News.  “David Vitter seems to be one of the nicest men, and most honorable men I’ve ever met,” Ms. Maier gushed to the reporter.  

A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

The day after Maier defended the “john’s” honor as an exemplary customer, Wendy Ellis (Cortez) confessed her previous affair in the French Quarter apartment with Louisiana’s beleaguered US Senator.  What’s more, she passed a polygraph test.  And there was one more thing. What Vitter was unaware of was that back in 1999, Ms. Ellis’ boyfriend was honing his skills as a budding cinematographer. He’d captured all their lurid acts behind a peep hole. The sex tapes were sold to Hustler in 2007.  CBS News featured a story about the revelations on November 8. 2007. Soon anyone with a computer had a front row seat to political porn.

Did this end Vitter’s political career? Come on, this is Louisiana!  Mr. Ruckert excelled in his role as Vitter’s advisor back them. With his stoic wife, (also conveniently called Wendy) by his side, our contrite “john” held a press conference to apologize for committing “a serious sin.” It worked. In 2010, Vitter triumphed, winning reelection to the US Senate by 19 points over a sitting Democratic member of Congress.

In 2013 instead of erasing the crime of prostitution, Senator Vitter made national news by attaching an amendment to the Farm Bill to ban “convicted felons’” from receiving food stamps. God forbid that a rehabilitated law-breaker should eat after they’d paid their debt to society? 

Three years later, in 2016, assuming that all was forgotten and with Ruckert leading the charge, our “john” set his sights on following Republican Bobby Jindal (2008-2015) into the Louisiana Governorship.  In 2015, toward this goal, David Vitter released a 30-second campaign spot. It featured him and his family sitting at a kitchen table. He earnestly gazed into the camera, saying: “Fifteen years ago, I failed my family but found forgiveness and love. I learned that our falls aren’t what define us but rather how we get up, accept responsibility, and earn redemption.”

At a debate immediately before the primary election, one of his fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, took the unusual tact of recommending that Louisianans view the tapes of his opponent’s partner in crime. As Angelle put it, “We have a stench that is getting ready to come over Louisiana.” Angelle told voters in 2015 “ We can’t trust David Vitter to handle our children’s education. He’s not only been wrong on fornication, he’s been wrong on taxation and he’s wrong on education.”

A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

Vitter did beat Angelle and the other Republican candidates, winning 23% of the vote in the primary to gain spot in the runoff. On November 4, 2015, The Times Picayune reported fellow Republican, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand saying “Vitter would be the worst governor in Louisiana history,” likening him to “a five year old in a sandbox.” This stemmed from a bungled attempt at political espionage that took place over coffee at the Royal Blend in Old Metaire. It seems that Vitter had hired a private detective to spy on the Sheriff to discover if he planned to connect one of the opposing gubnetorial candidates to the prostitute, Wendy Cortez.

That is when, finally, his French Quarter prostitution scandal finally reached its “sell by date.” During a campaign town hall WAFB (Baton Rouge) reporter, Greg Meriwether, asked this candidate to identify the “serious sin” he confessed to three years before.  He responded that “God and his wife forgave him.” 

WWL (New Orleans) anchor Dennis Woltering followed up to ask if this “sin” violated Louisiana law?  The politician verbally second lined himself into safer territory. Our “john” was soon to learn that in Louisiana God’s forgiveness does not erase New Orleanians’ patience and glee at denouncing hypocrisy. Amidst this, his Democratic opponent John Bel Edwards, launched an ad about an opponent “who answered a prostitute’s call during a Capitol Hill roll call.”

And thus, prostitution side-lined a promising political career and secured the Louisiana governorship for a Democrat in 2016. While conceding defeat to John Bel Edwards, Vitter announced that he would not seek reelection to his U.S. Senate seat in 2016 and would retire from office at the completion of his second term.

A Cautionary Tale of Vice, Hypocrisy, and Influence for Vitter’s Sock Puppet

Today it seems to many of us conservatives on the sidelines that the Governor Landry is no more than a surrogate Vitter. David Vitter remains in the sphere of influence as a member of Gov. Landry’s Council on Infrastructure, Ports and Rail.  As a lobbyist at the firm Butler Snow, Vitter’s profile describes him as supporting “advanced conservative reform.” His clients include Libya’s state-owned oil company.  How convenient for Vitter that he and his clients can now reap financial rewards as Landry removes environmental oversight. And if anyone files suit, his wife, Wendy Vitter, serves on the Federal bench (appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019) as a US District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  

Let’s hope that Governor Landry’s advisors will remind him that hypocrisy hovers like fog off the river. Millions of walking wallets stumble on our cracked French Quarter sidewalks each year as they guzzle hose water sweetened with grain alcohol and dyed acid green. As a climate change denier, who can Landry blame if there are tornados in February 2025? Meanwhile, our citizens have the worst health outcomes in the USA. Cancer Alley is notorious the world over as an environmental travesty. This summer our children will go hungry, but once they turn eighteen they can carry guns..

What do you think the world’s press will cover when they arrive for Super Bowl in less than a year?


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