The Sex Queen of L.A.
IT WAS EARLY EVENING IN ISTANBUL, JUST BEFORE SUNSET, AND Michelle Braun — known in the business as “Nici” — was about to become the most’ notorious and successful provider of women since Heidi Fleiss. There she was, a tall, blond 24-year-old from Bakersfield, California, six months pregnant with her second daughter, zipping along in a town car to one of Turkey s most exclusive hotels. Already the operator of a well-known “escort service” in Los Angeles, Nici had a few famous clients, a nice house and a doting husband. But she was always looking for richer men to book her girls, so she could attract a better class of women and make connections to still wealthier clients. In Istanbul, she was on the trail of Hakan Uzan, a Turkish billionaire whose family controlled the country’s second-largest cellular-service company.
Nici remembers finding Uzan in the presidential suite at the hotel, watching a soccer game on TV. As they talked, his eyes intermittently flicked over to the laptop balanced on her knees that displayed her portfolio of girls for hire. Uzan explained what he wanted: a harem waiting for him at the hotel every week. But not just any women — Playmates, porn stars, the kind of voluptuous, unattainable women of few scruples who denote status and class in certain circles. The miracle from Nici’s perspective — in addition to the size of Uzan’s wallet — was that he would rarely show up to see the girls, much less have sex. He just wanted to know they’d be there whenever he wanted.
With the connection to a whale like Uzan — the archetypal “easy client,” a filthy-rich guy more interested in courtship than fornication — Nici’s business went supernova. She already had a line into the Playboy Mansion; one of Hefner’s girlfriends was willing to solicit other Playmates and girlfriends, who are given a weekly “allowance” of $1,000. Now, when the girls heard they could make $25,000 by flying to Turkey for a few days, there was no shortage of them willing to sign up. “Hakan would send me an instant message at 3 a.m., and I would have to get four Playmates ready right away,” says Nici. “The first flight to Istanbul was around 6 a.m. through Paris, and sometimes I’d wake them up in the middle of the night for that flight.”
The girls were thrilled: “It was like a paid vacation,” says Angelica, a porn star who shared a room with a Playmate in an Istanbul hotel that looked like a castle. “There were eight girls there, and I was doing the math: like, at least $200,000 is being spent here, and these guys don’t even care.”
Before Uzan was accused of embezzling billions from his companies and became an international fugitive, Nici estimates, he spent $3 million in one year on her services.
The money and word-of-mouth business that Nici received from Uzan enabled her to do what no madam had done before: create a new high end of the escort industry, one that raised the stakes dramatically for both the Johns and the women. Prominent athletes, TV stars and Fortune 500 CEOs — the kind of names that would dominate the tabloids for weeks, were they to become public — flocked to Nici for access to her elite clientele. Not young, drug-addled nobodies like the girl who blew Eliot Spitzer but the pinnacle of L.A. beauty, women who represented the gold standard in the world of international escorting: models for Maxim and FHM, big-name porn stars and Playmates, including April ’07 cover girl, Survivor: China contestant and WWE star Ashley Massaro, according to government allegations. Nici even claims she once spoke with a teenage Paris Hilton, who offered to meet any client who paid $10,000 a night. Though a spokeswoman tor Hilton calls the claims “completely false and totally absurd,” Nici had seemingly reached a point where she could ask anything, of any woman.
“Nici was the Ben & Jerry’s of high-end escorting,” says a Las Vegas madam who has worked in the sex industry tor 10 years. “She was the first person to figure out the business, and everyone else followed her lead.”
But other escort services weren’t the only ones following Nici. In May 2002, around the same time Nici visited Istanbul, the FBI appeared at her door. Tipped off by one of her clients, they were looking for millions in cash he claimed to have sent her through FedEx. Nothing came of the visit, but the feds weren’t done with Nici: Last October, they showed up again, this time with a warrant to search her property. The government now alleges that Nici has made at least $8.5 million running an escort service as a front for a prostitution and money-laundering ring. The FBI declined to comment on the case, but Nici is adamant that her actions were legal. She disavows any comparison to “madams” like Heidi Fleiss.