Can Spitzer survive call-girl scandal?

Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal came just over a year since he stormed into the governor’s office, vowing to root out corruption in New York government.

But his first year in office was pockmarked by tumult, and the latest scandal raised questions about whether he can make it through a second year.

The first-term Democrat was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute from a call-girl business, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.

Spitzer allegedly paid for the call girl to take a train from New York to Washington — a move that opened the transaction up to federal prosecution because she crossed state lines.

The governor has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case Monday. A spokesman for Spitzer said the governor has retained a large Manhattan law firm.

At a Manhattan news conference, a glassy-eyed Spitzer, his shellshocked wife Silda at his side, apologized to his family and the people of New York.

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong,” he said. “I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.”

He did not say what he was apologizing for and ignored reporters’ shouted questions about whether he would resign — 14 months after he boldly proclaimed at the start of his term, “Day One, Everything Changes.”

Spitzer, the 48-year-old father of three teenage girls, retreated from his Manhattan offices to his Upper East Side home. Republicans immediately called for him to quit.

“He has to step down. No one will stand with him,” said Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island. “I never try to take advantage or gloat over a personal tragedy. However, this is different. This is a guy who is so self-righteous, and so unforgiving.”

Attention turned to the state’s lieutenant governor, David Paterson, who automatically becomes governor if Spitzer quits. There was no immediate comment from Paterson, who would become New York’s first black governor.

Spitzer seized the governor’s office with a historic margin of victory on Jan. 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he took on Wall Street executives with a vengeance while state attorney general.

In his previous position, Spitzer uncovered crooked practices and self-dealing in the stock brokerage and insurance industries and in corporate board rooms; he went after former New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso over his $187.5 million compensation package.

Spitzer become known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” Time magazine named him “Crusader of the Year,” and the tabloids proclaimed him “Eliot Ness.” The square-jawed graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law was sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president.

But he apparently became embroiled last year in a financial probe by the Internal Revenue Service into a high-end prostitution ring. The investigation into the Emperors Club VIP gathered more than 5,000 telephone calls and text messages, and more than 6,000 e-mails, along with bank records, travel and hotel records and surveillance.

It was unclear whether Spitzer was a target from the start or whether agents came across his name by accident while amassing evidence.

In an affidavit filed in Manhattan federal court last week, Spitzer appeared as “Client 9,” according to the law enforcement official. Client 9 personally made several cell phone calls to Emperors Club VIP to arrange a Feb. 13 tryst at a Washington hotel, the official said.

Client 9 wanted a high-priced prostitute named Kristen to come to Washington on a 5:39 p.m. train from Manhattan. The door to the hotel room would be left ajar. Train tickets, cab fare, room service, and the minibar were all on him.

“Yup, same as in the past. No question about it,” the caller told Kristen’s boss, when asked if he would make his payment to the same business as usual, a federal affidavit said. The client paid $4,300 to Kristen, touted by the escort service as a “petite, pretty brunette,” according to court papers.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, noted that prostitution customers are often not charged, and said charges against Spitzer might be unlikely.

“Especially if he resigns, he may just be left alone. It may be that the public is satisfied by his resignation as governor,” Tobias said.

Spitzer’s term as governor 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 his main Republican nemesis.

It would not be the first time that a high-profile politician became ensnared in a prostitution scandal. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana acknowledged in July that his Washington phone number was among those called several years ago by an escort service.

Scandals also recently derailed neighboring Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey. And Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being arrested last June in a Minneapolis airport restroom.

Spitzer’s cases as attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes. In 2004, he took part in an investigation of an escort service in New York City that resulted in the arrest of 18 people on charges of promoting prostitution and related charges.


Associated Press Writers Larry Neumeister in New York, Michael Gormley in Albany and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.