Spitzer Is Linked to Prostitution Ring

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James Estrin/The New York Times

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with his wife, Silda, made a statement to the news media on Monday.

By DANNY HAKIM and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

Published: March 10, 2008

ALBANY - Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who gained national prominence relentlessly pursuing Wall Street wrongdoing, has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a law enforcement official and a person briefed on the investigation.

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The wiretap captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a hotel room, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Manhattan. The person briefed on the case and the law enforcement official identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.

Mr. Spitzer, a first term Democrat, today made a brief public appearance during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a “private matter.” He did not address his political future.

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” said Mr. Spitzer, who appeared with his wife Silda at his Manhattan office. “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.”

Before speaking, Mr. Spitzer stood with his arm around his wife; the two nodded and then strode forward together to face more than 100 reporters. Both had glassy, tear-filled eyes, but they did not cry.

As he went to leave, three reporters called out, "Are you resigning? Are you resigning?", and Mr. Spitzer charged out of the room, slamming the door.

The governor learned that he had been implicated in the prostitution inquiry when a federal official contacted his staff Friday, according to the person briefed on the case.

The governor informed his top aides Sunday night and this morning of his involvement. He canceled his public events today and scheduled the announcement for this afternoon after inquiries from The Times. The governor’s aides appeared shaken before he spoke, and one of them began to weep as they waited for him to make his statement at his Manhattan office.

The man described as Client 9 in the affidavit arranged to meet with a prostitute who was part of the ring, Emperors Club VIP, on the night of Feb. 13. Mr. Spitzer traveled to Washington that evening, according to a person told of his travel arrangements.

The affidavit says that Client 9 met with the woman in hotel room 871 but does not identify the hotel. Mr. Spitzer stayed at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Feb. 13, according to a source who was told of his travel arrangements. Room 871 at the Mayflower Hotel that evening was registered under the name George Fox.

The law enforcement official 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 donor to Mr. Spitzer. Asked in a telephone interview Monday whether he accompanied Mr. Spitzer to Washington on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, Mr. Fox responded: "Why would you think that? I did not.”

Told that the Room 871 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel was registered in Mr. Fox’s name but 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."

Federal prosecutors rarely charge clients in prostitution cases, which are generally seen as state crimes. But the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 to address prostitution, human trafficking and what was viewed at the time as immorality in general, makes it a crime to transport someone between states for the purpose of prostitution. The four defendants charged in the case unsealed last week were all charged with that crime, along with several others.

Mr. Spitzer had a difficult first year in office, rocked by a mix of scandal and legislative setbacks. In recent weeks, however, Mr. Spitzer seemed to have rebounded, with his Democratic party poised to perhaps gain control of the state Senate for the first time in four decades.

Though his signature issue was pursuing Wall Street misdeeds, as attorney general Mr. Spitzer also had prosecuted at least two prostitution rings as head of the state’s organized crime task force.

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.”

Albany for months has been roiled by bitter fighting and accusations of dirty tricks. The Albany County district attorney is set to issue in the coming days the results of his investigation into Mr. Spitzer’s first scandal, his aides’ involvement in an effort to tarnish Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, the state’s top Republican.

Under the state constitution, should Mr. Spitzer resign, the lieutenant governor, David A. Paterson, would become governor for the remainder of Mr. Spitzer’s term.

Mr. Paterson’s current office would remain unfilled until the 2010 election, as the constitution makes no provision for filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office. Under those circumstances, Joseph L. Bruno, is the Republican majority leader and temporary president of the state senate, would "perform all the duties of the lieutenant-governor" until a new one is elected in 2010.

Those duties include acting as governor when the nominal office-holder is out of the state. Moreover, should Mr. Spitzer resign and if Mr. Paterson were unwilling or unable to take his place, Mr. Bruno would become acting governor—a possibility that would hold special irony, given the vicious and ongoing battles between Mr. Bruno and Mr. Spitzer over the last year.