By David A. Fahrenthold and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
What do you get when you pay a prostitute $4,300?
Okay. Yes. Other than that.
The answer, according to vice squad detectives and people familiar with the sex trade, is a pledge of ironclad silence, and the promise of an unusually attractive, intelligent companion -- albeit one who measures companionship by the hour. They said this price, allegedly paid by New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer for a purported few hours with a New York call girl at the Mayflower Hotel, exceeds the rates of even the priciest of Washington's hometown escorts.
But, these experts said, the economic logic of high-end prostitution is the same everywhere. Often, they say, it's not what happens in the bedroom that costs.
It's a question of who comes in, and what does -- or doesn't -- come out.
"You have your streetwalkers. You have your local escorts who do the Yellow Pages or the paper, and you have your escorts who do the Internet, and then you have, like, your courtesans, who are like the top of the top," said one woman involved in the local industry who asked that her name not be used so that her business would not face scrutiny. "It's not that they do anything particularly special. . . . It's the image."
Still, even for the top of the top, and even considering part of the fee in question may have been a deposit on the next excursion, she said the price Spitzer reportedly paid was shockingly high.
"People are like, ' How much money? Oh my gosh,' " she said. "I know some girls are like, 'We need to move' " to New York.
Spitzer, 48, was allegedly caught on a federal wiretap arranging for the woman, identified as "Kristen," to meet him in a Washington hotel room on the night of Feb. 13. Court documents say "Client-9," whom a source familiar with the investigation identified as the Democratic first-term New York governor, forked over $4,300. Spitzer testified on the Hill the next day, Valentine's Day, about the state of the bond industry.
The documents do not say how much this client paid per hour, since the sum allegedly included a down payment on future services. But, since his time with the prostitute apparently lasted less than three hours, experts on the Washington area sex industry said, Client-9 appears to have paid far more than the local going rate.
"Even the high-end escort services are anywhere between $300 and $500 per hour," said Detective Mark Gilkey, a D.C. police investigator who has worked prostitution cases in the city for 26 years. Detective Steven Schwalm of the D.C. police department's prostitution enforcement unit said some call girls charge $10,000 for an evening that lasts three or four hours -- and $250,000 for a weekend getaway where the woman provides "sex on demand." He added, though, that he knows of no arrests in this exclusive tier: "We don't have enough in our confidential funds to order up a high-priced call girl like that."
Police said high-priced women constitute just a tiny fraction of the area's sexual underworld. They can command a higher price, police say, mainly because they claim to stand out among a population affected by drug addiction and sexually transmitted disease.
"The people charging $50 an hour on Route 1 and those charging $300 are probably for the same acts," said Capt. Ron Lantz of the Fairfax County vice unit. "You're just getting charged more at Tysons [hotels] for women who consider themselves a higher quality."
That promise of quality often includes good looks, a clean bill of health and the ability to serve as a charming conversationalist and elegant companion at social functions. In some cases, experts said, this Hollywood fantasy can actually be true: Sudhir Venkatesh, a professor of sociology at Columbia University who has interviewed prostitutes in New York City, said some of them left behind highly skilled jobs.
Venkatesh said his research showed that, in more than 40 percent of the liaisons between johns and prostitutes at this high price point, no sexual intercourse actually occurred. "It's an expensive conversation" in some cases, Venkatesh said. "It happens a lot more than we think."
But in many cases, local investigators say, a high price is no guarantee of quality. Gilkey said that men who hire expensive escorts face the same risks as those who hire streetwalkers, including the chance of being robbed or blackmailed.
"STDs, HIV-infected people," Gilkey said, listing other threats. "I mean, you can't tell by looking at them."
Nor can exclusivity assure secrecy. Venkatesh said Spitzer's experience proves that. By all accounts, Kristen was faithful to her profession's code of discretion.
"They want to be able to trust somebody," Venkatesh said of johns. "And, in this case, you find out that you can't do that every time."
Particularly when IRS agents start wondering what you get for $4,300.
Staff writers Allison Klein, Ernesto Londo¿o and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.