He was once known as "Mr. Clean" and "The Sheriff of Wall Street. " Now he's just "Client 9. " Gov. Eliot Spitzer's reputation as a square-jawed...

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ALBANY, N.Y. — He was once known as “Mr. Clean” and “The Sheriff of Wall Street.” Now he’s just “Client 9.”

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s reputation as a square-jawed, straight-arrow, corruption-busting prosecutor — cultivated much of his life — was steamrolled Monday by allegations of an encounter with a high-priced call girl in a Washington, D.C., hotel the day before Valentine’s Day.

At a Manhattan news conference before about 100 reporters, Spitzer apologized to his family and the people of New York.

Silda Wall Spitzer, looking drawn with her eyes downcast, stood beside her husband of 20 years and the father of their three teenage daughters. The conference was hastily arranged in response to inquiries by The New York Times, which said it had learned from an anonymous source that Spitzer had told senior aides he was involved with a prostitution ring.

But he gave no details of what he was sorry for, did not discuss his political future and ignored shouted questions about whether he would resign.

“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” said Spitzer, 48. “I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”

The governor has not been charged; prosecutors would not comment on the case.

The New York Times began investigating Spitzer’s possible involvement with the prostitution ring on Friday, the day after prosecutors arrested four people on charges of helping run the ring.

Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute from a business known as the Emperors Club, a law-enforcement official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on. Spitzer was identified in court papers only as “Client 9.”

The ring arranged sex between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris, prosecutors said.

The accusations mark a mortifying and possibly career-ending fall for a politician who had practically made ethics his calling card.

“Crusader of the Year,” proclaimed Time magazine in 2002, when Spitzer was New York’s wildly popular attorney general. Spitzer made his name taking on Wall Street barons and analysts who failed to play fair with everyday investors, and as governor, he had vowed to root out corruption in New York government.

The Emperors Club

The four people arrested last week in connection with the high-end ring were charged with violating the federal Mann Act, a 1910 law that outlaws traveling across state lines for prostitution. A defendant in the case, Temeka Rachelle Lewis, told a prostitute identified only as “Kristen” that she should take a train from New York to Washington for an encounter with Client No. 9 on the night of Feb. 13, according to an affidavit based on the wiretap. Lewis confirmed that the client would be “paying for everything — train tickets, cab fare from the hotel and back, minibar or room service, travel time, and hotel,” according to the complaint.

The prostitute, described in the complaint as a “petite, pretty brunette, 5-feet-5 inches, and 105 pounds,” met the client in a hotel room about 10 p.m., according to the complaint. He paid $4,300 in cash, with some being used for the encounter and the rest apparently to be used for credit for future trysts, according to the papers.

When discussing how the payments would be arranged, the papers say, Client 9 told Lewis: “Yup, same as in the past, no question about it” — suggesting Client 9 had done this before.

According to court papers, an Emperors Club agent was later told by the prostitute that her evening with Client 9 went well. The agent said she had been told that the client “would ask you to do things that … you might not think were safe … very basic things,” according to the papers, but that Kristen responded by saying, “I have a way of dealing with that … I’d be, like, ‘Listen dude, you really want the sex?’ “

The club’s Web site displays photographs of scantily clad women with their faces hidden. It also shows hourly rates depending on whether the prostitutes were rated from one diamond to seven diamonds. The highest-ranked prostitutes cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.

The case began as a financial investigation by Internal Revenue Service agents, and at some point was referred to the public-corruption unit of the U.S. attorney’s office, authorities said. It was not clear whether Spitzer was a target of the investigation from the start, or whether agents came across his name by accident.

Prosecutors compiled statements from a confidential source and an undercover officer, and examined thousands of phone calls, text messages and e-mails, as well as bank, travel and hotel records.

“A double surprise”

“Here’s a guy whose entire career has been based on being ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street,’ ‘Mr. Morality,’ the guy who is standing firm for ethics in government,” said Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac University’s Polling Institute. “For Eliot Spitzer, it’s a double surprise because it’s his whole public persona.”

Among other things, he uncovered crooked practices in the stock-brokerage and insurance industries and in corporate boardrooms, and went after former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso over his $187.5 million compensation package, which Spitzer called unreasonable and unlawful.

In December 2002, 10 Wall Street firms agreed to a multimillion-dollar penalty to resolve charges that they gave biased stock ratings. Spitzer also launched popular attacks on subprime-mortgage brokers and gun manufacturers.

His cases as attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes. 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.

Monday’s scandal came 16 months after Spitzer stormed into the governor’s office with a historic margin of victory, pledging to root out government corruption.

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

As evidence of his tough-minded, no-compromise style, Spitzer famously told a Republican legislative leader: “I’m a steamroller, and I’ll roll over you and anybody else,” adding an unprintable adjective for emphasis.

His cockiness also has gotten him into trouble in the past. In 1994, he denied — and later acknowledged — secretly borrowing millions of dollars from his father to finance an unsuccessful run in the Democratic primary for state attorney general that year.

The scandal also is bad news for the state Democratic Party. Spitzer went into 2008 intent on taking back the state Senate from the Republicans.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Pennsylvania, first said she had no comment. But when asked whether she thought Spitzer could survive the scandal, she said, “Let’s wait and see what comes out over the next few days.”

Rep. Peter King, a Republican congressman from Long Island, said: “He has to step down. No one will stand with him.”

Additional information from The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune.