By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's political future was thrown in doubt yesterday after he was identified as an anonymous client heard on a federal wiretap arranging to pay money and buy train tickets for a high-priced New York prostitute to meet him at a downtown Washington hotel.
A person familiar with the case said Spitzer was one of the unnamed clients of a New York area prostitution ring mentioned in federal court documents unsealed last week. Spitzer, a rising star in the Democratic Party who has been in office for 14 months, did not directly address the allegations in a hastily called news conference, and he made no mention of resigning. But as he dropped from public view, canceling all of his planned events, his political career seemed in limbo last night amid speculation that he was preparing to step down.
"I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violate my, or any, sense of right and wrong," Spitzer, 48, said in a terse public statement, with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, at his side. "I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expect of myself."
His political opponents in the state legislature were already calling for his resignation. Even sympathetic analysts said the governor -- after a series of scandals and bruising battles with the legislature -- does not have a reservoir of goodwill to draw upon that might help him overcome this latest controversy.
"This is not even a nail in the coffin -- this is a spike," said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "It would be difficult for him to govern. His moral authority is nonexistent."
A 1910 federal statute called the Mann Act prohibits traveling across state lines to engage in prostitution. Also, Republicans in Albany said that if the governor tries to keep his job, they will probably question whether his state police bodyguards, who provide him 24-hour protection, were complicit in his actions, and whether state money or facilities were used.
"I can't see him getting through this," said state Sen. Martin J. Golden (R), a former police officer. "Interstate transportation for sexual purposes is a federal crime. . . . We all think now he's negotiating a plea."
Spitzer has not been charged with any crime. The U.S. attorney's office in New York had no comment on the case.
If Spitzer does resign, he would be replaced by Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, scion to a well-connected Harlem political family and the state's senior African American elected official. Paterson, who is legally blind, would be New York's first black governor.
The wiretap was set up as part of a federal investigation of an exclusive prostitution ring, known as Emperors Club VIP. It charged well-heeled clients as much as $5,500 an hour for "exclusive, beautiful, educated companions of fine family and career backgrounds" while ensuring "privacy and discretion when dating and traveling," according to the company's Web site.
The site used a series of diamonds next to photographs of the women to rate them, with those having the most diamonds commanding the highest prices. The site has been shut down.
Last Thursday, federal authorities -- using an agent posing as a client and wiretaps that recorded about 5,000 calls -- arrested four people in connection with the prostitution ring. They included the alleged ringleaders in New Jersey, Mark Brener, 62, and Cecil Suwal, 23, known as "Katie," who ran day-to-day operations. Also arrested were Tanya Hollander, 36, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., and Temeka Rachelle Lewis, 32, of Brooklyn.
The charge sheet for the four provided details about clients soliciting women. They included an unidentified "Client-9," who called Lewis to say that he had sent a package, believed to be a monetary deposit, and wanted to have a prostitute named "Kristen" take the train from New York's Pennsylvania Station to Union Station in Washington on Feb. 13 and meet him in Room 871 of a hotel in the District.
A source familiar with the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Client 9 was Spitzer.
On Sunday, Spitzer reportedly told his staff that he had been implicated in the prostitution ring, the New York Times reported on its Web site.
The Washington hotel was later identified as the Mayflower, and by evening, tourists were already snapping pictures of the city's latest iconoclastic monument to scandal.
According to the details in the charge sheet, Client 9 appeared to be a regular user of the Emperors Club VIP services. When Lewis, awaiting the deposit, asked whether the client had used the correct mailing name, Client 9 replied, "Yup, same as in the past, no question about it."
When the client asked which woman would be coming to Washington, Lewis told him it was Kristen, and Client 9 expressed some evidence of familiarity, saying, "Great, okay, wonderful." He later asked Lewis to remind him what Kristen looked like, and was told she was a petite, pretty brunette, 5 feet 5 inches tall and 105 pounds.
The client also asked Lewis if he could give Kristen "extra funds" as a deposit for future services. Lewis explained that it was not standard practice, but that she was willing to make an exception for Client 9.
Spitzer's travel schedule shows he spent the night of Feb. 13 in Washington to attend a congressional hearing the next day, Valentine's Day. Spitzer was not initially scheduled to appear at the hearing on the state of the bond industry, held by the Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, insurance and government-sponsored enterprises. But committee staff members said Spitzer called to insist on coming to testify, and they ended up pushing back the New York insurance superintendent to make room for the governor's last-minute appearance.
Spitzer made a name for himself as New York's crusading attorney general, taking on white-collar criminals and prosecuting securities fraud cases. He also broke up two prostitution rings.
Spitzer ran for governor in 2006 as a reformer who would shake up the sometimes gridlocked politics of Albany, and his landslide 69 percent of the vote was the largest margin ever in a New York gubernatorial race. But his popularity quickly waned as he became enmeshed in scandals and political missteps, including allegations that his staff used New York state troopers to collect potentially damaging political information against his chief rival in Albany, Joseph L. Bruno, the state Republican leader. Spitzer later apologized to Bruno.
As evidence of his tough-minded, no-compromise style, Spitzer also famously told James Tedisco, the State Assembly Republican leader: "I'm a [expletive] steamroller, and I'll roll over you and anybody else."
Spitzer also proposed a plan to give state driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. But that created a national firestorm of protest, and complicated the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who was asked in an early debate whether she supported it and is seen as having flubbed her answer.
"His whole first year has been in incredibly contentious relationships," said Eric Lane, a law professor at Hofstra University.
Staff writers Carrie Johnson in Charlottesville and Jonathan Weisman and Petula Dvorak in Washington contributed to this report.