INSIDE THE EMPERORS CLUB
Wiretaps, Rookie Hookers and Client No. 9
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Temeka Rachelle Lewis dialed her boss in late January, fed up with the headaches of small-time business. She had spent more than three years coordinating prostitution appointments across the globe for the Emperors Club, and the job often kept her on the phone solving problems until after 11 p.m. There were rookie hookers who expected $5,000 an hour, mothers who left clients early to fetch their children, high-priced call girls who were clueless about how to imprint a credit card.
Now, Lewis called her Emperors Club boss Mark Brener with the latest tale of employee incompetence. On Jan. 29, she explained, one of the club's regular prostitutes had missed an appointment and sent "crazy text" messages. Lewis surmised that the prostitute was probably using drugs.
"A lot of these girls deteriorate to this point," Lewis observed.
The Emperors Club was riddled with problems long before charges were filed early this week and New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer -- aka client No. 9 -- resigned from office after an encounter with "Kristen," a 22-year-old woman now identified as a would-be singer from South Jersey. In a 55-page affidavit detailing the FBI's investigation of 5,000 Emperors Club telephone calls and 6,000 e-mails, the business sometimes sounds less like a sophisticated sex ring than an overstressed start-up.
The FBI investigation utilized undercover agents, parking-lot surveillance and the full power of wiretaps to compile a uniquely complete portrait of modern prostitution. Emperors Club made more than $1 million over three years and paid about $400,000 to more than 50 prostitutes. On its Web site, it promised clients that Emperors Club services would make life "more peaceful, balanced, beautiful and meaningful."
The four business coordinators -- Brener, office manager Cecil Suwal, and schedulers Lewis and Tanya Hollander -- dealt with a litany of everyday problems in catering to wealthy men around the world. They complained of lackluster advertising in Los Angeles, nervous new employees who preferred to "just model," Internet outages and trouble wiring money into two bank accounts.
The brain trust at the Emperors Club often cursed both their supply and their demand: One of their prostitutes looked "like a butcher," Brener said. Meanwhile, Lewis said, Client 9 put off prostitutes by asking "you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe."
When the four defendants launched the Emperors Club in December 2004, they carefully dressed their company with the accouterments of legitimate business. They opened a bank account in the name of QAT Consulting Group Inc. and, later, QAT International Inc. They created three phone numbers, with a pleasant female voice on the answering machine. They built a fancy Web site with a home page featuring a naked woman throwing back her brown, curly hair and a slogan, "Every client is an emperor."
In bold letters, the club listed a disclaimer:
"Money exchanged is only for our providers time, total relaxation message [sic], entertainment purposes, modeling or private dancing. Under no condition will our escorts ever accept money for services which are considered indecent."
In meetings, Brener, Lewis, Suwal and Hollander assigned each prostitute a rating between one and seven diamonds and priced them accordingly. Bargain prostitutes started at $1,000 an hour. Seven-diamond women cost $3,100 an hour. In recruiting employees, the Emperors Club also offered the possibility that women could become an "Icon" -- an elite prostitute available to the most loyal clients for a minimum of $5,500 an hour.
Trouble was, some prostitutes wanted to be Icons right away. On Jan. 18, Lewis worked to coordinate an appointment for a new prostitute in Los Angeles. The rookie, "Felana," complained of nervousness, requested extra money and asked that her picture not be placed on the Web site for fear that a family member might recognize her. Lewis, convinced Felana was "clueless," called the Los Angeles client and warned that he was getting a first-timer.