The Canal Street Brothel

Former Madams Run Family Business

They say there's nothing hotter than a New Orleans kitchen in July.

The talk got pretty spicy in the dining room of the Canal Street Brothel when Correspondent Harold Dow sat down with these "unconventional businesswomen" in the summer of 2003.

"A lot of this wasn't about sex. A lot of it is fun," says Jeanette Maier, former madam of the infamous Canal Street Brothel.

"I ran a clean, tight business. If it can be said to be proud about what you're doing, I made sure it was run right," says Tommie Taylor, who ran the brothel.

"My mother was like the house mother, making sure everybody had what they needed," adds Jeanette, who's also Tommie's daughter.

Clients were charged $300 an hour for services. A good week, according to Paula Cherish, another ex-madam visiting from Pittsburgh, could vary from $5,000-$10,000 a week. She used to refer working girls to Jeanette.

"If it hadn't a been for the FBI, we'd probably still be chugging right along, making half of the businessmen in New Orleans very happy," says Tommie.

"This case represents, I feel, one of the vilest forms of racketeering there is, and that's the exploitation of women for the sake of a buck," says assistant U.S. attorney Sal Perricone.

In spring of 2003, federal prosecutors slapped indictments on Jeanette, Tommie and Paula - a dozen women in all - for running a nationwide prostitution ring.

"We're not hurting anybody. I don't see why this is such a big deal," says Jeanette. "We weren't going out and grabbing 14-year-old girls off of the street, making them hookers. These were professional women who booked in with us."

The bust quickly became the butt of jokes. After all, prostitution was once legal in this legendary district called Storyville.

Storyville is long gone, but many brothels in the area are still open for business. "It's just like gumbo. It's all over the city," says Tommie.

Federal prosecutors told 48 Hours that they didn't want to talk about this case.

But the women they indicted do. This is their story, at least the parts of it that can be put on national television.

"Tell him about Big Little," says Tommie to Jeanette.

"Big Little is kind of, like, a big jolly guy, and he's a wonderful man," says Jeanette. "He prefers women six feet and over and you wrestle around with Big Little and you have to say 'I'm big and you're little' and he goes, 'no.'..."

"I am not! I'm big, too," says Tommie with a high voice.

"That's his thing and he loves it, so we call him Big Little and he's one of our favorite guys," says Jeanette.

It's hard to imagine that this and so much more happened on this quiet street in New Orleans.

The Canal Street Brothel was in a residential neighborhood, with a local church nearby.

"It was like family. It was like a sorority of girls. We'd hang out, watch movies, eat popcorn at night," says Jeanette. "I wanted it to be clean. I wanted upscale. I wanted it, is it possible to have class in a brothel? I wanted it."

Jeanette says she's not sure how much the business brought in - but it was easy money. Turnover was key. "You have to understand. The girls did not have to spend a whole hour at my house with these gentlemen," she says.

In fact, they once had one client whom they used to call the Five-Minute Man.

"It took him anywhere from three to five minutes, bing bang boom, in, out, got to go back to work," says Tommie. "Now, he paid for the hour. If he wanted to sit there and talk to her, he could do that. That was his hour."

Tommie joined the Canal Street Brothel when she was 62 and unemployed. "My chances of employment were slim. The brothel was across the street from where I was living. So I decided to go ahead and answer the phones."

She took the job with a vengeance. Pity the client who lacked credentials.

"I'm looking to protect myself and the girls that are working there," says Tommie. "I want to know, No. 1, where do you work? And if you can't tell me where you worked, then you need to call another service."

Which brings about the other great controversy boiling like a pot of gumbo, Jeanette's little black book of customers - which included doctors, judges, dentists and attorneys.

The brothel had the kind of clients who could afford to pay $300 an hour for services, but couldn't afford to have their names made public.

Arriving late to lunch is Monica Montemayor and her daughter, Nevaeh. Monica is Jeanette's daughter.

"See, it runs in the family," says Jeanette. "We're all beautiful."

And they are all in the family business. Monica worked at the Canal Street Brothel as a prostitute, where her mother was the madam and her grandmother manned the phones.

Monica makes $250-$300 a client. She gets to keep half of her earnings. The other half goes to mom and grandma.

Tommie, Jeanette and Monica are three generations of women who are all facing prison, in a business they now claim none of them wanted to be part of in the first place.

Part 2: The secret FBI wiretaps that brought down the house.