The rendezvous that established Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with high-priced prostitutes occurred last month in one of Washington’s grandest hotels, but the criminal investigation that discovered the tryst began last year in a nondescript office building opposite a Dunkin’ Donuts on Long Island, according to law enforcement officials.
There, in the Hauppauge offices of the Internal Revenue Service, investigators conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks found several unusual movements of cash involving the governor of New York, several officials said.
The investigators working out of the three-story office building, which faces Veterans Highway, typically review such reports, the officials said. But this was not typical: transactions by a governor who appeared to be trying to conceal the source, destination or purpose of the movement of thousands of dollars in cash, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The money ended up in the bank accounts of what appeared to be shell companies, corporations that essentially had no real business.
The transactions, officials said, suggested possible financial crimes — maybe bribery, political corruption, or something inappropriate involving campaign finance. Prostitution, they said, was the furthest thing from the minds of the investigators.
Soon, the I.R.S. agents, from the agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, were working with F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors from Manhattan who specialize in political corruption.
The inquiry, like many such investigations, was a delicate one. Because the focus was a high-ranking government official, prosecutors were required to seek the approval of the United States attorney general to proceed. Once they secured that permission, the investigation moved forward.
At the outset, one official said, it seemed like a bread-and-butter inquiry into political corruption, the kind of case the F.B.I. squad, known internally by the designation C14, frequently pursues.
But before long, the investigators learned that the money was being moved to pay for sex and that the transactions were being manipulated to conceal Mr. Spitzer’s connection to payments for meetings with prostitutes, the official said.
Then, with the assistance of a confidential informant, a young woman who had worked previously as a prostitute for the Emperor’s Club V.I.P., the escort service that Mr. Spitzer was believed to be using, the investigators were able to get a judge to approve wiretaps on the cellphones of some of those suspected of involvement in the escort service.
The wiretaps, along with the records of bank accounts held in the names of the shell companies, revealed a world of prostitutes catering to wealthy men. At the center was the Emperor’s Club, which arranged “dates” with more than 50 beautiful young women in New York, Paris, London, Miami and Washington.
But its finances moved through the shell companies — the QAT Consulting Group, QAT International and Protech Consulting — which held bank accounts into which clients wired their payments, according to court papers in the case.
Payments Showing 'As A Business Transaction'
One of the booking agents, a woman named Temeka Rachelle Lewis, 32, told a client that wiring his payments to QAT Consulting was safe because it would show up “like as a business transaction,” according to an affidavit filed in federal court the case.
But the transactions proved to be anything but safe for Mr. Spitzer, who, aides said on Monday, was weighing possible resignation.
Last week, Ms. Lewis was one of four people charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with operating the prostitution ring. Also arrested were Mark Brener, 62, who is accused of heading the operation; Cecil Suwal, 23, who is said to have managed it day to day; and Tanya Hollander, 36, who worked part time as a booker.
The affidavit, which was unsealed on Thursday when the four were arrested, details the secretly recorded conversations that officials said captured Mr. Spitzer’s efforts to arrange a Washington meeting with a prostitute on Feb. 13. It also describes the young woman’s report to the booking agent on her encounter with the governor, shortly after it was concluded.
The affidavit does not name the governor, nor does it name any of the other 10 men described as having purchased sex through the operation. Instead, it refers to them by number, with Mr. Spitzer, according to two law enforcement officials, listed as Client 9.
Mr. Spitzer’s cited rendezvous with the prostitute on Feb. 13 occupies five pages of the 47-page affidavit. The document recounts parts of a half-dozen conversations Client 9 had with Ms. Lewis, the booking agent, in the roughly 24 hours leading up to his meeting with the prostitute at the Mayflower Hotel.
They discussed whether his deposit would cover the young woman’s travel expenses, whether his payment had arrived — apparently by mail or overnight courier — and how she would be admitted to the hotel room he had reserved in Washington. At one point, when the booker tells him it will be a woman who went by the name Kristen, Client 9 said, “Great, O.K., wonderful,” according to the affidavit.
During the last conversation, he asked Ms. Lewis to remind him what Kristen looked like.
The conversations, according to the affidavit, were among more than 5,000 telephone calls and text messages that the federal authorities intercepted during the course of the investigation into the prostitution ring, which began last October. Investigators also seized more than 6,000 e-mail messages, bank records, and travel and hotel records, and conducted physical surveillance.
Almost lost in the tumult of the governor’s statement and the possibility of his resignation were the original allegations against the defendants said to have operated the ring.
Two of them, Mr. Brener and Ms. Suwal, are still held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, and on Monday their lawyers were still focused on their clients’ problems, not Mr. Spitzer’s.
Mr. Brener’s lawyer, Jennifer L. Brown, said her client “is anxious to have his day in court for a full airing of these charges and he’s looking forward to defending himself.”
Daniel S. Parker, a lawyer for Ms. Suwal, recalled that his client had, as all the defendants, entered a plea of not guilty at her arraignment on Thursday. He said Monday that she was entitled to the presumption of innocence.
“What the governor chooses to state or admit to is the governor’s business,” he said.