Judge orders release of Spitzer wiretaps

February 19, 2009 3:11:09 PM PST
The government must release sealed documents that could reveal new details about the origins and scope of the prostitution investigation that brought down former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a judge ruled Thursday. The written decision in federal court in Manhattan by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said the documents name 67 people besides Spitzer who were clients of Emperor's Club VIP, a high-end prostitute service. However, those names will be blacked out.

Rakoff wrote that the documents - FBI applications for wiretaps - should be unsealed "given the strong and obvious public interest in disclosure." He ordered the government to make the material public by Tuesday.

"There is an obvious interest in obtaining information about the origins of an investigation that led, ultimately, to the resignation of the governor of New York," the judge wrote.

Prosecutors, who can appeal the decision, had no immediate comment.

After The New York Times sued late last year to get access to the documents, the government voluntarily unsealed a search warrant application for Emperor's e-mail account.

But it has withheld applications for wire taps on cell phones, including one used by a woman who booked appointments.

One of the requests "was supported by an affidavit containing ... summaries of communications obtained from wiretaps," the ruling said.

Prosecutors have argued the release of the documents would violate the privacy of callers and reveal sensitive investigative techniques. But Rakoff found that "any threats to privacy are eliminated by the redactions (of names) previously agreed to" by prosecutors and the Times.

None of the 67 customers has ever been identified and no client, including Spitzer, was ever charged.

Spitzer resigned after details were revealed of a tryst with one of the ring's prostitutes in a Washington hotel. Investigators had been looking into the governor's affairs after noticing unusual activity - later shown to be payments to prostitutes - in his bank accounts.

Four people who operated the ring have pleaded guilty to prostitution and money laundering charges.


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