His stoic wife at his side, Spitzer
"I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he said. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."
Spitzer's involvement in the ring was caught on a federal wiretap as part of an investigation opened in recent months, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry.
The New York Democrat, identified in legal papers as "Client 9," met last month with at least one woman in a Washington hotel, the law enforcement official said.
Law enforcement officials who have been briefed on the case tell CBS News the Washington rendezvous captured by a federal wiretap happened in Room 871 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
CBS News has confirmed that the name "George Fox" was used to book a room at the hotel. Fox is described as a campaign donor to Spitzer.
CBS News reports the case began as an IRS investigation into possible money laundering. The IRS brought the FBI into the case several months ago because one of the money streams involved a high-ranking government official and that suggested possible government corruption.
Spitzer's name first surfaced last summer when IRS agents traced one particular money stream to Spitzer, according to law enforcement officials. The IRS watched as money was taken from Spitzer's accounts and through convoluted transfers made it into the account of the escort service. By the time the deposits were made there, Spitzer's name was not attached to the payments.
Even though he is not currently under indictment, the officials say Spitzer's actions do expose him to possible criminal liability stemming from those transactions involving possible violations of tax laws, banking laws and money laundering. It falls under laws relating to what's called "the structuring of payments."
The prostitution ring, identified in court papers as the Emperors Club VIP, arranged connections between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris, prosecutors said.
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 with one diamond, the lowest ranking, or seven diamonds, the highest. The most highly ranked prostitutes cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.
"Spitzer is the latest in a long line of politicians caught up in scandal but for a man who made his reputation as a crime-busting attorney general and ethics crusader, allegations such as these are even more damaging for Spitzer," said CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs.
The scandal was first reported on The New York Times' Web site. (Read the report.)
Spitzer spoke hours later. Stunned lawmakers gathered around televisions at the state Capitol in Albany to watch, and a media mob gathered outside the office of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who would become governor if Spitzer was to resign. It took opponents only minutes to call for his resignation.
"Today's news that Eliot Spitzer was likely involved with a prostitution ring and his refusal to deny it leads to one inescapable conclusion: He has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York," said Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco. "He should resign his office immediately."
Spitzer, 48, built his political reputation on rooting out corruption, including several headline-making battles with Wall Street while serving as attorney general. He stormed into the governor's office in 2006 with a historic share of the vote, vowing to continue his no-nonsense approach to fixing one of the nation's worst governments.
Time magazine had named him "Crusader of the Year" when he was attorney general and the tabloids proclaimed him "Eliot Ness."
But his term as governor has been marred by problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear Spitzer's main Republican nemesis.
Spitzer had been expected to testify to the state Public Integrity Commission he had created to answer for his role in the scandal, in which his aides were accused of misusing state police to compile travel records to embarrass Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno.
Spitzer had served two terms as attorney general where he pursued criminal and civil cases and cracked down on misconduct and conflicts of interests on Wall Street and in corporate America. He had previously been a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, handling organized crime and white-collar crime cases.
His cases as state attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and into tourism involving prostitutes.
In 2004, he was part of an investigation of an escort service in New York City that resulted in the arrest of 18 people on charges of promoting prostitution and related charges.