ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who gained national prominence by 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 federal investigation.
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. The person briefed on the case and the law enforcement official identified Spitzer as Client 9.
Spitzer, a first-term Democrat, made a brief public appearance yesterday during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a "private matter."
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong," said 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, 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.
The governor spoke for perhaps a minute and did not address his political future.
He declined to take questions and promised to report back soon. As he went to leave, three reporters screamed out, "Are you resigning? Are you resigning?" and 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 on Friday, according to the person briefed on the case.
The governor informed his top aides Sunday night and yesterday morning of his involvement. He canceled his public events yesterday and scheduled the announcement for this afternoon after inquiries from The New York 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 Republican state party and a leading Republican legislator called for the governor to step down. James Tedisco, a Republican assemblyman from Schenectady who has clashed loudly and publicly with Spitzer, called on the governor to step down if the accusations are true.
"The governor who was going to bring ethics back to New York state, if he was involved in something like this, he's got to leave," Tedisco said. "I don't think there's any question about that."
As questions swirled about Spitzer's political future, a swarm of reporters gathered outside the office of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who by law would become governor if Spitzer resigns. But his staffers provided no information.
The man described as Client 9 in court papers arranged to meet with a prostitute who was part of the ring, Emperors Club VIP, on the night of Feb. 13. 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 Room 871 but does not identify the hotel. 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 Spitzer by the name of George Fox, though a few of the prostitutes came to realize he was the governor of New York.
Fox is a friend and donor to Spitzer. Asked in a telephone interview yesterday whether he accompanied Spitzer to Washington on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, Fox responded: "Why would you think that? I did not."
Told that the Room 871 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel was registered in Fox's name but with Spitzer's Fifth Avenue address, 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.
Spitzer had a difficult first year in office, rocked by a mix of scandal and legislative setbacks. In recent weeks, however, 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.
Spitzer gained national attention when he served as attorney general with his relentless pursuit of Wall Street wrongdoing. As attorney general, he also had prosecuted at least two prostitution rings as head of the state's organized crime task force.
In one such case in 2004, 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 multi-tiered management structure," Spitzer said at the time. "It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring."
Eliot L. Spitzer
born New York City
Wife, Silda Wall Spitzer; three daughters
Princeton University, 1981; Harvard Law School, 1984
Law clerk for U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, 1984-85; private law practice, 1985-86; 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