3rd Guilty Plea In Spitzer Call Girl Case

New York State Gov. Eliot Spitzer makes a statement to reporters during a news conference Monday, March 10, 2008 in New York where he apologized to his family and the public after a report that he was involved in a prostitution ring. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The operator of a pricey prostitution ring that counted Eliot Spitzer among its clients pleaded guilty Thursday in a criminal probe that put his company out of business and forced the governor to resign.

Mark Brener, 62, of Cliffside Park, N.J., became the third of four defendants to plead in a case that crushed the image of the hard-charging governor, who before his 2006 election had built a national reputation as New York's crusading state attorney general.

Brener, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a prostitution offense and conspiracy to commit money laundering, agreed Thursday to serve 2 to 2½ years in prison. He will be sentenced Sept. 16.

Brener's plea agreement does not require him to cooperate, said his lawyer, Murray Richman, adding that he did not believe Brener knew Spitzer was a customer of the escort service.

His reputation in tatters, Spitzer resigned March 12 after it was revealed he was "Client-9" of the Emperors Club VIP, whose dealings with a number of unidentified customers were described in detail in court documents.

Spitzer has not been charged, though an investigation continues that could still lead to charges stemming from his Feb. 13 rendezvous in Washington, D.C. with a prostitute known as Kristen, who was paid $4,300.

Law enforcement authorities monitored the meeting of the pair, listened in on Spitzer's telephone calls and analyzed his bank records.

During the hearing, Brener acknowledged that between December 2004 and March 2006 he and others operated a business that involved prostitution.

He said they used cell phones and e-mail to manage the operation and sometimes arranged for women to travel from state to state to engage in prostitution.

"I knew that my involvement with this business was wrong and illegal," he told the judge.

Brener also said he and others used bank accounts in the names of QAT Consulting Inc. and QAT International Inc. to receive payments from customers and to make payments to prostitutes.

"These bank accounts were used, in part, to conceal and disguise the nature of the payments," he said. "I knew that my actions in this regard were wrong and illegal."

The investigation began when the two banks noticed suspicious financial transactions and alerted the authorities.

Brener's plea came a week after his former girlfriend, 23-year-old Cecil Suwal, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. The former University of Miami student and graduate of a prestigious prep school lived with Brener prior to their arrests.

A month ago, Temeka Lewis, a booking agent for the escort service, pleaded guilty to similar charges. The remaining defendant, Tanya Hollander, who also was accused of being a booking agent, has been negotiating a possible plea bargain, according to her attorney, Michael C. Farkas.

Lewis agreed to cooperate with federal authorities but Suwal did not formally agree to do as part of her plea.

Brener, a widower and former financial consultant from Israel who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, operated the agency, which charged clients up to $5,500 an hour for the services of women in the United States and Europe, authorities said.

Prosecutors described Brener as the head of the operation. They said he recruited prospective prostitutes, decided how to market them to clients and resolved any problems that arose.

The services were advertised on a Web site that included photographs of the bodies of the women with their faces hidden alongside hourly rates that varied from $1,000 to $3,100 per hour, depending on how many "diamonds" the women received in the club's ranking system. The most highly ranked prostitutes could charge fees of $5,500 an hour.

Brener remained incarcerated, though his lawyer and the government agreed to a $250,000 bail package that was likely to clear the way for his freedom for the first time since early March.

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