NEW YORK – A woman accused of booking clients for a prostitution ring pleaded guilty Wednesday in the federal probe that brought down former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Temeka Rachelle Lewis entered pleas in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to promoting prostitution and money laundering while her mother and sister looked on from the gallery.
The 32-year-old is among four defendants in the case involving the Emperor's Club VIP call girl ring that brought down New York's crusading governor after just 14 months in office.
Her attorney, Marc Agnifilo, said his client, an English major at the University of Virginia, is eager to put the case behind her.
"She's basically a very good person," he said. "Sitting at a defense table in a federal courthouse is the last place she imagined she'd be. I have no doubt she'll never be in trouble again."
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Lewis could face around 16 months in prison, her lawyer said. The maximum penalties are far higher, up to 25 years.
Left unsaid during the brief court proceeding was whether Lewis has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in cases against the other defendants, or provide evidence against Spitzer.
Agnifilo took the unusual step during the hearing of requesting that the written copy of Lewis' plea bargain be sealed by the court.
"It is no secret that there is an ongoing investigation," he told Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz. "There should not be speculation about where this case is going."
Members of the news media objected and Katz said he would delay a ruling until later Wednesday afternoon.
The federal investigation into the high-end prostitution ring apparently began last year as a routine financial probe by the Internal Revenue Service. The investigation was referred to the U.S. attorney's office last fall.
Court papers say the FBI secretly recorded conversations between Lewis and Spitzer about a Feb. 13 tryst with a prostitute in Washington named "Kristen." The former governor, identified in court papers only as Client No. 9, allegedly paid $4,300 for her services.
Just days after reports identifying Spitzer as Client No. 9, the married governor and father of three teenage daughters resigned. He has not been charged.
The real name of the woman identified as Kristen is Ashley Alexandra Dupre, a 23-year-old high school dropout from Beachwood, N.J. She has not been charged either.
The other defendants are Mark Brener, 62, of Cliffside Park, N.J., who is accused of running the ring. Brener, a native of Israel, has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Also charged were Tanya Hollander, 36, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., and Cecil Suwal, 23, who lives with Brener.
Investigators say the prostitution ring made more than $1 million for its operators. A three-diamond prostitute cost $1,000 per hour; a seven-diamond prostitute could fetch $3,100 and the highest paid, $5,500 an hour.
The bookers arranged meetings between clients and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris, prosecutors said.
Investigators described Spitzer as a repeat customer who spent tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes. The scion of a Manhattan real estate developer, Spitzer is very wealthy, reporting $1.9 million in income to the IRS in 2006.
According to a federal affidavit, wiretaps enabled government investigators to listen in on instructions that Kristen should take a train from New York to Washington for the tryst with Client No. 9 at the Mayflower Hotel the day before Valentine's Day.
An Emperors Club employee was quoted in court papers as telling Kristen that Client 9 "would ask you to do things that ... you might not think were safe." Kristen responded by saying: "I have a way of dealing with that. ... I'd be, like, listen, dude, you really want the sex?"
A law enforcement official said the discussion had to do with Spitzer's preference not to wear a condom and the call girl's insistence that he use one.
Spitzer, who was New York's attorney general before he became governor, built a reputation on Wall Street as a crusader against shady practices and overly generous compensation.
The U.S. attorney's public corruption unit got involved in the case after the IRS looked into a complaint of a potential violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, the government's main tool against money laundering.
Financial institutions are required to have anti-money laundering programs in place. Those programs help the government catch terrorist financiers, drug lords and other criminals.