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Governor of N.Y. linked to call girl

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Times Staff Writers

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who built a national reputation as an aggressive, uncompromising prosecutor, apologized to the public Monday after a federal wiretap caught him allegedly arranging to meet a high-priced prostitute in a Washington hotel.

The recording captured a man identified as “Client 9” -- a regular customer of an elite international call-girl ring -- setting up a date with a petite brunet who used the name “Kristen.” A source familiar with the case identified the Democratic governor as Client 9.

As the public -- and his fellow politicians -- reacted with shock and outrage, Spitzer strode to a lectern in Manhattan, his arm around his wife, Silda. Both looked deeply shaken, but Spitzer delivered his brief remarks in a crisp, steady tone as Silda stood, stone-faced, at his side.

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“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family, that violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong,” he said.

Spitzer, who has three teenage daughters, has not been charged. He spoke for one minute and did not elaborate on his actions.

But plenty of salacious details emerged in court documents filed last week when federal prosecutors indicted four people they accused of being ringleaders in the Emperors Club VIP, which advertised companions with “beauty, elegance, erudition, and educational standing.”

An FBI affidavit describes a wiretapped conversation in which Client 9 told a call-ring booking agent that he had sent a deposit for the tryst by mail, with no return address, “same as in the past, no question about it.” A delivery delay almost derailed his Feb. 13 date with Kristen. The money finally arrived, however, and the transaction continued.

One of the club’s booking agents told Kristen that she had heard that the client “would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe,” according to the affidavit.

Kristen replied: “I have a way of dealing with that. . . . I’d be like, ‘Listen, dude, you really want the sex?’ ”

The client allegedly paid for Kristen to take a train from New York to Washington, where he was staying that evening. Transporting prostitutes across state lines is a felony under the 1910 federal Mann Act.

The FBI intercepted calls and text messages in which Client 9 promised to leave his hotel door open so Kristen could enter without having to ask the front desk for a key. He assured the booking agent that he would pay her cab fare and hotel minibar charges and asked for a reminder about Kristen’s looks. The agent told him she was American and “very pretty,” at 5 feet, 5 inches and 105 pounds.

The affidavit said that Kristen spent about two hours with Client 9. She collected the remainder of her fee, about $2,700, from him. He also paid an additional $1,600 as a deposit for future services from the Emperors Club.

At midnight, Kristen called the Emperors Club to report that the date was over. “I don’t think he’s difficult,” Kristen told the agent. “I know what my purpose is. . . . I know what I do.”

In the morning, Spitzer testified before a congressional finance committee about the bond insurance industry.

The Emperors Club VIP ranked its prostitutes on a scale of one to seven diamonds, with the most elite women charging $5,500 an hour. Booking agents reassured clients that wire transfers and credit-card transactions would show up on billing records as being paid to a shell company called QAT Consulting.

Advertising online with photos of lingerie-clad women -- no faces visible -- the club is alleged to have attracted wealthy clients across the U.S. and overseas. “Two A+ in a row,” one satisfied client told a booking agent. “I don’t know where you get these young ladies.”

Emperors Club prostitutes regularly worked in Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris as well as New York and Washington, according to court documents. (Though the affidavit detailed one tryst at the Beverly Hills Hotel, business wasn’t great in Los Angeles: One booking agent complained to her boss, “I don’t know if, if you’re going to be advertising but . . . it’s just been really, really slow in L.A. . . . We have a lot of girls there now. . . . We need calls.”)

On Thursday, the U.S. attorney’s office in the southern district of New York unsealed charges against a man and three women accused of running the Emperors Club. All four were charged with conspiracy to violate federal prostitution standards. Two were also charged with conspiracy to launder more than $1 million in illicit proceeds.

The arrests generated few headlines nationally until Monday, when the New York Times reported Spitzer’s involvement on its website.

“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” Spitzer said, biting his lip as he faced a crowd of media.

He rushed out of the room as reporters shouted after him: “Are you resigning?”

Although Spitzer, 48, did not address his future -- he said only that he needed time “to regain the trust of my family” -- political analysts said the episode would likely end the career of a man once touted as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

“Here’s a guy who had one desire in life,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who helped Spitzer win his 1998 campaign for attorney general. “He could have done anything. He had the financial means to do so. [But] he wanted to serve the people.”

He described Spitzer’s career as “in tatters” and added: “The ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ is a sheriff no more. . . . Either he has got to leave or the Republicans are going to use him as a pinata.”

As the news spread, New Yorkers expressed disgust.

“That guy was a career prosecutor who had a good background in the area of ethics,” said Debanshu Debroy, 42. “I thought he would be a good guy, but you just don’t know.”

Leaving a Midtown gym, Tania Salei, 26, said her opinion of politicians had fallen even lower: “If they can’t be good to their wives, how do we know they will be good to us?”

Spitzer -- a graduate of Princeton and Harvard law -- built his reputation as a headline-grabbing prosecutor who went after the titans of Wall Street during his two terms as New York’s attorney general.

With nicknames including “Mr. Clean,” he often portrayed himself as a model of probity, appalled by shenanigans at blue-chip investment banking and mutual fund firms. He got indictments but didn’t wait for the legal process to play out; instead, he sought to rally public outrage (and rattle investors) with a barrage of statements accusing such big names as Merrill Lynch and Janus of betraying the public trust.

The tactic worked: Spitzer negotiated settlements that required the firms to pay fines, reduce fees for investors and in some cases remove top executives from power. For such work, Time Magazine named him “Crusader of the Year” in 2002.

Spitzer also broke up at least two prostitution rings in New York City, including a 2004 case that led to the arrest of 18 people at an escort service.

Campaigning for governor in 2006, Spitzer promised to take on corruption and backroom dealings in Albany. He won in the biggest landslide in New York gubernatorial politics.

But his first year in office was tumultuous; he quickly earned a reputation as stubborn and confrontational, with a ferocious temper.

In one oft-recounted tantrum, he screamed at Republican Jim Tedisco, the minority leader of the state Assembly: “I’m a . . . steamroller, and I’ll roll over you and anybody else.”

In another episode, dubbed “Troopergate,” Spitzer’s aides were accused of using state police to track the travel of state Sen. Joseph Bruno in an effort to embarrass the powerful Republican.

Spitzer also made enemies with a proposal to allow illegal immigrants to get drivers’ licenses.

He withdrew it under fire, but not before the issue embarrassed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made contradictory statements about whether she supported the idea.

The executive director of the Democratic Governors Assn., Nathan Daschle, pleaded for Spitzer to be left alone: “This is not the time to play politics.”

But Republicans were quick to seize on the scandal. The National Republican Congressional Committee called on Democrats who had received contributions from Spitzer to return the governor’s “sleazy money.”

Tedisco called on Spitzer to resign. “He has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York,” he said.

As the political jockeying intensified, New Yorkers who have followed Spitzer’s career were left with a painful question: Why?

“I’m stunned that this highly intelligent, successful prosecutor would be involved in such reckless and risk-taking behavior,” said Douglas Muzzio, a political consultant and professor at Baruch College CUNY School of Public Affairs.

“Talk about a great man falling,” Muzzio said. “It’s the stuff of tragedy.”

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erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

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stephanie.simon@latimes.com

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Hayasaki reported from New York, Simon from Denver. Staff writers Louise Roug and Richard Schmitt contributed to this story.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Eliot Spitzer

Age: 48

Family: Married to Silda Wall Spitzer; the couple has three daughters.

Experience: Assistant district attorney in Manhattan, 1986-92; chief of labor racketeering unit of Manhattan district attorney’s office, 1991-92; private law practice, 1992-1998; attorney general, 1999-2006; governor, 2007-present.

As governor: Elected with a historic 69% of the vote. Spitzer’s agenda has stalled amid political scandal and polls that show most New Yorkers would not vote for him again as governor. Two aides were disciplined for using the state police to track the movements of Spitzer’s chief political rival. He has been able to push through moderate revisions on the budget, ethics and workers compensation, but one of his signature efforts, campaign finance reform, has languished.

Career highlights

1994: Ran for New York attorney general but lost in the primary.

1998: Narrowly elected attorney general of New York after a bitter campaign.

2002: Began investigating conflicts of interest at major Wall Street brokerages; Time magazine named him “Crusader of the Year.” Easily reelected attorney general.

2003: Wall Street brokerages agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle conflict-of-interest case.

2004: Sued former New York Stock Exchange chief Richard Grasso, alleging that Grasso took home $100 million in unentitled pay. (The case remains in the courts.)

2006: Elected governor of New York.

2007: Proposed sweeping reforms of healthcare, campaign finance and school funding

2008: Issued a public apology after reports that he had hired a high-end prostitute.

Sources: Associated Press, Scott J. Wilson


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