Gov. Eliot Spitzer leaving with his wife, Silda, after making a statement to the news media on Monday.
Governor Eliot Spitzer Busted In Prostitution Ring: Client 9
ALBANY — Gov. Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-end prostitution ring broken up last week by federal authorities, according to law enforcement officials, a development that threatened to end his career and turned the state’s political world upside down.
Mr. Spitzer’s involvement with the prostitution operation came to light in court papers filed last week, the officials said, as federal prosecutors charged four people with operating the service, Emperor’s Club V.I.P. Mr. Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap discussing payments and arranging to meet a prostitute in a Washington hotel room last month. The affidavit, which did not identify Mr. Spitzer by name, indicated that he had used the prostitution service before, although it was not clear how often.
Mr. Spitzer, 48, appeared briefly with his wife at his Manhattan office to apologize, but did not specifically address any involvement with the ring. He said he needed to repair his relationship with his family and decide what was best for the state, but he declined to take questions, leaving after barely a minute.
“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong,” the governor said. “I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”
“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”
The governor, a Democrat in his first term, then returned to his Fifth Avenue apartment and remained there on Monday night, receiving counsel from his advisers and weighing a possible resignation, an aide said.
The New York Times began investigating Mr. Spitzer’s possible involvement with a prostitution ring on Friday, the day after the prosecutors arrested the four people on charges of helping run the Emperor’s Club. After inquiries from The Times over the weekend and on Monday, the governor canceled his public schedule. An hour after The Times published a report on its Web site saying Mr. Spitzer had been linked to the ring, the governor made his statement.
The news was met with disbelief and shock in Albany, a capital accustomed to scandal. Some legislative assistants said they were too stunned to speak, and lawmakers gathered around television sets in hushed offices, trying to make sense of what had happened.
“We’re at a total standstill,” said Keith L. T. Wright, a Democratic assemblyman from Harlem. “Everybody is stunned. Everybody is absolutely stunned.”
Mr. Spitzer has not been charged with a crime. But one law enforcement official who has been briefed on the case said that Mr. Spitzer’s lawyers would probably meet soon with federal prosecutors to discuss any possible legal exposure. The official said the discussions were likely to focus not on prostitution, but on how it was paid for: Whether the payments from Mr. Spitzer to the service were made in a way to conceal their purpose and source. That could amount to a crime called structuring, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, declined to comment.
If Mr. Spitzer were to resign, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson would serve out the remainder of his term. Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, would become the first black governor of New York. State Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the state’s top Republican, would assume the duties of the lieutenant governor.
By 10:30 on Monday morning, it was clear in Albany that something was wrong. Mr. Spitzer’s office abruptly canceled a speech to a family planning conference, about a half-hour before he was scheduled to ascend the podium. The governor also canceled a private meeting with Cardinal Edward M. Egan, at first sending word that Mr. Paterson would stand in for him, and then abandoning the session altogether.
The governor learned that he had been implicated in the prostitution inquiry when a federal official contacted his office on Friday, according to the person briefed on the case. On Saturday night, he attended the Gridiron Club annual dinner, a political roast put on by Washington journalists, and appeared ebullient, according to people in attendance.
The governor informed his top aides on Sunday night and Monday morning of his involvement.
Mr. Spitzer’s family and his top assistants debated Monday morning at Mr. Spitzer’s apartment about whether he should step down, a person who spoke to the governor said. Silda Wall Spitzer, who was among them, told her husband that he should not resign in haste; as did Lloyd Constantine, a senior adviser and a longtime friend of the governor. But most of his others saw no way for him to survive.
Dietrich L. Snell, a lawyer who has represented Mr. Spitzer in the past, did not return telephone and e-mail messages Monday.
According to prosecutors, the Emperor’s Club provided women to clients in London, Paris, Miami and other cities, and charged them between $1,000 and $5,500 an hour.
The affidavit details a Feb. 13 encounter between a prostitute named Kristen and a man described as “Client 9,”whom law enforcement officials identified as Mr. Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer traveled to Washington that evening, according to a person told of his travel arrangements, and stayed at the Mayflower Hotel.
He testified before Congress about the bond insurance crisis the following morning. Among the open questions is where Mr. Spitzer’s security detail was while the prostitute was inside the hotel.
The affidavit says that he met with the woman in Room 871 but does not identify the hotel. Room 871 at the Mayflower that evening was registered under the name George Fox.
One of the law enforcement officials said that several people running the prostitution ring knew Mr. Spitzer by the name of George Fox, though a few of the prostitutes came to realize he was the governor of New York.
Mr. Fox is a friend and a donor to Mr. Spitzer. Asked in a telephone interview on Monday whether he accompanied Mr. Spitzer to Washington on Feb. 13 and 14, Mr. Fox responded: “Why would you think that? I did not.”
Told that Room 871 at the Mayflower Hotel had been registered in Mr. Fox’s name with Mr. Spitzer’s Fifth Avenue address, Mr. Fox said, “That is the first I have heard of it. Until I speak to the governor further, I have no comment.”
In a wiretapped conversation after the encounter, the prostitute, Kristen, called her booker to inform her that the session had gone well, and that she did not find the client “difficult,” as other prostitutes apparently had, according to the affidavit.
The booker responds that he, in an apparent reference to Client 9, sometimes asks the women “to do things that, like, you might not think were safe.”
Mr. Spitzer called Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, on Monday afternoon after his statement, but his aides did not share details of the conversation. Mr. Paterson was said to be keeping a low profile, awaiting the governor’s decision.
About 6 p.m., Richard Baum, the governor’s top aide, met with Mr. Spitzer’s staff but made no mention of a resignation and urged his colleagues to keep their heads down and continue as best they could with the day-to-day work of state government.
Albany for months has been roiled by bitter fighting and accusations of dirty tricks. The Albany County district attorney is set to issue the results of his investigation into Mr. Spitzer’s first scandal, his aides’ involvement in an effort to tarnish Mr. Bruno.
Mr. Spitzer was elected in a landslide in 2006, capitalizing on his popularity he won as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” during eight years as attorney general. With a reputation for personal probity and independence, he pledged to bring higher ethical standards to the statehouse.
After promising change in Albany from “Day 1,” Mr. Spitzer was quickly plunged into political turmoil, and much of his legislative agenda was sidelined. He gained a reputation for being intemperate and alienated even some members of his own party.
In recent weeks, however, Mr. Spitzer seemed to have rebounded, with his party poised to perhaps gain control of the state Senate for the first time in four decades.
The revelation about Emperor’s Club and the attendant disruption in Albany comes at a particularly bad time: The state faces a $4.4 billion deficit and is weeks away from its deadline to complete a new budget.
“Every year you say you’ve seen it all, but you haven’t,” said Matthew Mataraso, a lobbyist who started his career at the Capitol in 1962 as a lawyer for a Republican assemblyman. “It’s a shame. It’s awful. This is why people lose faith in government. But I guess it shows that he’s human like everybody else.”
Anthony Casale, a lobbyist and a former assemblyman who came to the Capitol on Monday for the scheduled Assembly session, was in disbelief. “Literally, if ever a situation finds anybody in politics speechless, it’s something like this,” he said.
Republicans were quick to pounce, with the state party and a top lawmaker calling for him to resign.
“The governor who was going to bring ethics back to New York State, if he was involved in something like this,” said James N. Tedisco, the Republican minority leader of the Assembly, “he’s got to leave. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Mr. Bruno said, “I think it’s very, very unfortunate and I feel very badly for the governor’s wife, for his children.” He added, “The important thing for the people of New York State is that people in office do the right thing,” he added.
Mr. Spitzer’s fellow Democrats were muted in their response.
Mr. Silver, the Assembly speaker, issued a terse two-sentence statement: “The allegations against the Governor are before the public. I have nothing to add at this time.”
When he was attorney general, Mr. Spitzer’s signature issue was pursuing Wall Street misdeeds. But he also oversaw the prosecution of at least two prostitution rings by the state’s organized crime task force, which reports to the attorney general.
In one such case in 2004, Mr. Spitzer spoke with revulsion and anger after announcing the arrest of 16 people for operating a high-end prostitution ring out of Staten Island.
“This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multitiered management structure,” Mr. Spitzer said at the time. “It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring.”
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