Spitzer Scandal’s Israeli Angle Feels Like Deja Vu

By Ron Kampeas, JTA

Published March 11, 2008, issue of March 21, 2008.
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Washington — A fast-rising Democratic governor, an out of control sex drive and an Israeli enabler — it feels like deja vu all over again on the Hudson.

Just four years after the then-governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey, resigned amid revelations of an affair with his Israeli-born ex-homeland security chief, Golan Cipel, Americans were once again treated to the spectacle of the governor of a large northeastern state standing alongside a grim-looking wife and admitting that he had erred.

“I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong,” said New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, 48, in a short statement to reporters on Monday afternoon, after the New York Times broke the news that the stunning anti-crime crusader was alleged to have been involved in a prostitution ring. “I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family,” he said. “I apologize to the public, to whom I promised better.”

Mark Brener, the alleged pimp at the center of the prostitution scandal engulfing Spitzer, is an Israeli.

It was not immediately clear if Spitzer would resign.

Spitzer, a Jewish lawyer, built his career as an anti-crime, anti-corruption crusader. Most of his cases were high-profile Wall Street targets, but during his eight-year stint as state attorney general, Spitzer’s office also investigated at least two Jewish organizations: the National Council of Young Israel and the World Jewish Congress.

In each case, Spitzer’s office found what it deemed examples of misused funds and reached an agreement limiting the future involvement of a longtime leader of the organization in question.

What will now happen to Spitzer is not yet clear, but the scene Monday had echoes of the downfall of McGreevey, not least because of the coincidence of an Israeli connection.

In fact, Brener’s nationality reportedly accounts for why he is still in jail. Of the four people charged in the federal prostitution case brought last week, the U.S. Magistrate Michael Dolinger denied only Brener bail, citing the $600,000 in cash and the Israeli passport found in his home as proof of his flight risk.

Brener’s lawyer told The Associated Press that he has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years.

The allegation against Brener is that he was the ringleader running the Emperors VIP Club, described by police as a high-priced prostitution ring. The club ran prostitutes in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and London. Clients rated the prostitutes with diamonds on the Club’s website. Top-rated prostitutes could demand thousands, and the Club took more than 50 percent in commission fees.

In the case described in the warrant involving “Client 9” — reported by the New York Times to be Spitzer — the client requested a prostitute on Feb. 12. He was in Washington at a hotel; the service would send a prostitute down from New York.

Client 9’s account was low on cash — down to about $400, according to wiretaps cited in the warrant, suggesting that he had used the service before. He would pay an additional $2,600 for his time with “Kristen,” an amount that apparently included her train fare and travel time, and give her some extra cash toward the next encounter.

They met, the warrant said, at the hotel the next night, on Feb. 13; sometime after midnight – in the first minutes of Valentine’s Day — Kristen called Temeka Rachelle Lewis, Brener’s alleged co-conspirator, to tell her that the encounter had gone “very well.”

Republicans are already calling on Spitzer, once touted as presidential material, to resign. Whether he does so depends on what Democrats say, and whether he is charged in the case.

Two Republican U.S. senators recently caught up in sex scandals have not resigned. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, is alleged to have frequented a prostitute but was never charged. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, pleaded guilty last year to soliciting gay sex in a bathroom, although he is now trying to reverse the plea.

McGreevey did resign and wrote a book about his experiences, aimed partly at encouraging other gays to come out. Cipel still denies that he is gay or that he was McGreevey’s lover and claims the governor harassed him.

Based on the warrant, it doesn’t seem as if the Spitzer controversy will go away: Recorded comments by Kristen and Lewis suggest that there is more sordid information to come.

During a conversation in which Kristen insisted that she liked Client 9, Lewis said she had heard that he “would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe.”

Kristen responded: “I have a way of dealing with that… I’d be like, listen dude, you really want the sex?… You know what I mean.”

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