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Crime-fighting N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer takes a fall

He was once known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street." Now he's "Client 9."

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's political career teetered on the brink of collapse Monday after the crime-busting politician was accused of paying for a romp with a high-priced call girl.

He was widely expected to resign, though he would not discuss his political future Monday.

"This is not even a nail in the coffin — this is a spike," said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "It would be difficult for him to govern. His moral authority is nonexistent."

A glassy-eyed Spitzer, his shellshocked wife at his side, apologized to his family and the people of New York but gave no details and ignored questions about whether he would quit.

"I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he said. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."

He was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute from a call girl business, Emperors Club VIP, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. He was identified in court papers only as Client 9.

He allegedly paid for the call girl to take a train from New York to Washington — a move that opened himself up to federal prosecution because she crossed state lines. He has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case.

But Spitzer was clearly examining his legal options; a spokesman said the governor had retained the Manhattan law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, one of the nation's biggest.

One law enforcement official who has been briefed on the case said Spitzer's lawyers would probably meet soon with prosecutors to discuss any possible legal exposure. The official said the discussions also may focus on whether the payments from Spitzer to the service were made in a way to conceal their purpose and source. That could amount to a crime.

"Crusader of the Year," proclaimed Time magazine in 2002, when Spitzer was New York's wildly popular attorney general. He made his name taking on Wall Street barons and analysts who failed to play fair with everyday investors. Profiles were rife with references to his square jaw and his crime-busting predecessor, Eliot Ness.

His cases as attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes.

"He has to step down. No one will stand with him," said Rep. Peter King, a Republican congressman from Long Island.

The prostitution ring arranged sex between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris, prosecutors said. Four people allegedly connected to the high-end ring were arrested last week and charged with violating the federal Mann Act, a 1910 law that outlaws traveling across state lines for prostitution.

A defendant in the case, Temeka Rachelle Lewis, told a prostitute identified only as "Kristen" that she should take a train from New York to Washington for an encounter with Client No. 9 on Feb. 13, according to a complaint. Lewis confirmed that the client would be "paying for everything."

The prostitute, described as a "petite, pretty brunette, 5-feet-5 inches, and 105 pounds," met the client in Room 871 about 10 p.m. He paid $4,300 in cash, with some being used for the encounter and the rest apparently to be used for credit for future trysts, according to the papers.

When discussing how the payments would be arranged, Client 9 told Lewis: "Yup, same as in the past," suggesting Client 9 had done this before.

An Emperor's Club agent was told by the prostitute that her evening with Client 9 went well, according to court papers. The agent said she had been told the client "would ask you to do things that … you might not think were safe … very basic things," according to the papers, but Kristen responded, "I have a way of dealing with that … I'd be, like, listen dude, you really want the sex?"

The club's Web site showed hourly rates based on prostitute ratings of one to seven diamonds. The highest-ranked cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.

The scandal comes 16 months after Spitzer won the governor's race by a historic margin, vowing to root out corruption in government the same way he took on Wall Street. But his first year has been fraught with problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear a GOP nemesis.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used.

>>fast facts

A national reputation

"Mr. Clean": A corruption-fighting politician once known as "Mr. Clean," Eliot Spitzer was elected governor by a historic margin 16 months ago. He vowed to root out corruption in the same way he took on Wall Street executives while attorney general, but his hard-charging ways quickly led to turmoil. Spitzer, 48, is a Harvard Law School graduate, as is his wife, Silda. They have three teenage daughters.

Next in line: Less than two years after he reluctantly ran for lieutenant governor, David Paterson is in line to be the third black U.S. governor since Reconstruction. Paterson, 53, who is legally blind, has been well respected by Republicans and Democrats during his 20-year political career.

Crime-fighting N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer takes a fall 03/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:35am]
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