New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Eliot L. Spitzer a former New York attorney general who built his reputation by crusading aggressively against Wall Street corruption, resigned as the governor of New York following news reports that he had spent tens of thousands of dollars patronizing prostitutes with an escort service.

Summary of Event

On March 12, 2008, two days after every major media outlet reported that he had paid for a sexual encounter in Washington, D.C., with a New York prostitute, Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation as the governor of New York. As the New York attorney general, Spitzer had built a national reputation by aggressively pursuing Wall Street corporations he accused of corrupt business practices, and he had successfully catapulted himself into the governorship on the strength of that reputation. [kw]Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal, New York Governor Eliot (Mar. 12, 2008) [kw]Prostitution Scandal, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in (Mar. 12, 2008) Emperors Club Spitzer, Eliot L. Dupré, Ashley Alexandra Emperors Club Spitzer, Eliot L. Dupré, Ashley Alexandra [g]United States;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] [c]Prostitution;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] [c]Sex crimes;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] [c]Government;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] [c]Politics;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] [c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 12, 2008: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer Resigns in Prostitution Scandal[03850] Spitzer, Silda Wall

Eliot Spitzer, with his wife, Silda Spitzer, announces his resignation on March 12, 2008.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

To his supporters, Spitzer was a tenacious reformer who enforced the law against the rich and powerful. Critics, however, saw Spitzer as a bully who tried his cases in the press instead of the courtroom and who essentially coerced his targets into settling for large financial contributions to the state of New York by threat of indictment. Therefore, Spitzer’s shocking downfall was seen either as government overreaching to stifle a powerful reformer or just deserts, depending on one’s initial view of Spitzer.

The impetus for the press reports was a federal indictment against four men and women accused of running a high-class prostitution ring called the Emperors Club VIP. Although the Emperors Club was based in New York, it provided prostitutes to clients in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Federal authorities had jurisdiction over the investigation because of the interstate nature of the criminal enterprise, which involved possible violations of the Mann Mann Act of 1910 Act of 1910, which prohibits interstate transportation of women for prostitution.

According to an affidavit prepared by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent Kenneth Hosey in connection with the government’s investigation of the Emperors Club VIP, a “Client-9”—later identified by The New York Times New York Times;and Eliot Spitzer[Spitzer] and other media outlets as Spitzer—spent two days arranging advance payment before setting up an encounter with a prostitute named “Kristen” in a Washington, D.C., hotel room, on February 13. The conversations arranging the encounter were recorded on a federal wiretap. Client-9 also paid for Kristen’s train ride from New York to Washington, D.C. The affidavit contained salacious details such as the fact that other Emperors Club prostitutes considered Spitzer to be a “difficult” client in that he preferred “unsafe” activities—perhaps a reference to unprotected intercourse. Kristen, according to the affidavit, disagreed with that assessment and indicated in a text message to her supervisor that she liked Client-9, who identified himself to the Emperors Club as George Fox. Spitzer had registered for his hotel room under the name Fox, which, it turned out, is the name of an actual friend of Spitzer who Campaign contributions contributed to his campaign.

The New York Times subsequently revealed Kristen to be a twenty-two-year-old waitress and aspiring musician named Ashley Alexandra Dupré. Dupré later received immunity in exchange for her testimony before the grand jury. Federal investigators ultimately concluded that Spitzer may have paid the Emperors Club as much as eighty thousand dollars over the past few years, including time when he was serving as the attorney general and directing prosecution of other prostitution rings.

Spitzer’s use of the escort service was not the initial focus of the federal investigation that would end up catching him. What spurred the inquiry was Spitzer’s large cash transactions in 2007, which, it was later revealed, were used to pay the Emperors Club. His bank was mandated to report the transactions to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service;and Eliot Spitzer[Spitzer] Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Under federal law, financial transactions in excess of ten thousand dollars generate currency transaction reports (CTRs) to the IRS that are designed to help that agency keep track of the movement of U.S. funds as well as to help the federal government fight money Money laundering laundering. Spitzer was no doubt aware of these regulations, as he apparently structured his transactions so as to bring them each below the reporting threshold. (Structuring done with the intent to evade the reporting requirements can itself be a federal crime, but is difficult to prove.) After federal investigators began looking into the transactions, they wondered whether Spitzer was the victim of extortion or identity theft. It was while investigating Spitzer that they discovered his patronage of the Emperors Club.

Spitzer’s scandal had superficial similarities to President Bill Clinton’s sexual scandal with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky] Lewinsky, Monica [p]Lewinsky, Monica;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] in that both involved male politicians involved with women young enough to be their daughters, and Spitzer repeatedly emphasized, as Clinton had, that this was a “private” matter. In his first public statement on March 10, accompanied by his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, the governor said, “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my sense of right or wrong,” without specifying the conduct in question. Whereas Clinton remained popular, however, Spitzer’s aggressive political character appeared to leave him with few political allies, even among Democrats, willing to stand by him. Moreover, Clinton had never been a prosecutor; Spitzer, as noted, had prosecuted prostitution rings, thus leaving himself vulnerable to criticism of hypocrisy and worse, such as placing himself above the law. Meanwhile, numerous Wall Street personalities positively delighted in the news that Spitzer had been brought down by a scandal, and Spitzer’s Republican foes increased the pressure on him, calling for Impeachment;and Eliot Spitzer[Spitzer] impeachment hearings if he did not resign.

On March 12, again accompanied by his wife, Spitzer stated publicly at a press conference that

I cannot allow for my private failings to disrupt the people’s work. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted—I believe correctly—that people take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.

Following Spitzer’s announcement, speculation increased that he had reached an agreement with federal prosecutors, perhaps resigning in exchange for the U.S. attorney’s forbearance from prosecution. On November 6, prosecutors announced that Spitzer would not be charged in the case, citing a lack of evidence to support claims that Spitzer misued public funds.

Impact

Once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and a potential future U.S. presidential candidate, Spitzer now had a political future that appeared to be fatally wounded by the prostitution scandal. He had been a prominent supporter of U.S. senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Clinton, Hillary Rodham [p]Clinton, Hillary Rodham;and Eliot Spitzer[Spitzer] ’s bid for nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Had Clinton won the White House, he would have been an obvious contender for the position of U.S. attorney general. However, after his resignation, the Clinton Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Hillary Clinton[Clinton02] campaign removed all references to Spitzer from its Web site.

Taking Spitzer’s place was David Paterson, who became the first African American and first blind governor of New York. Paterson immediately disclosed publicly that both he and his wife had a history of extramarital affairs. Perhaps because the press was still focusing on Spitzer, or perhaps because there were no illegal acts, Paterson’s disclosure resulted in no apparent backlash. Emperors Club Spitzer, Eliot L. Dupré, Ashley Alexandra

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Apostolidis, Paul, and Juliet A. Williams, eds. Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. A study of politics and political culture in the context of sex scandals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eliot Spitzer and the Prostitution Ring: The FBI Files. Minneapolis, Minn.: Filibust, 2008. A compilation of government documents related to the case, including the federal indictment against the Emperors Club defendants and Eliot Spitzer.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feuer, Alan, and Ian Urbina. “Client 9 in Room 871: Notes on a Rendezvous.” The New York Times, March 11, 2008. Discusses the identification of Eliot Spitzer as Client 9 in an FBI agent’s affidavit.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hakim, Danny, and William K. Rashbaum. “Spitzer Is Linked to Prostitution Ring.” The New York Times, March 10, 2008. The initial story that broke the scandal. Includes Spitzer’s first public statement on the matter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lucchetti, Aaron. “Wall Street Cheers as Its Nemesis Falls from Grace.” The Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2008. A roundup of Wall Street’s reaction to news of the Spitzer prostitution-ring scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Masters, Brooke A. Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer. New York: Henry Holt 2006. A largely favorable biography written with Spitzer’s cooperation.

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