A Web site (www.emperorsclubvip.com) connected a worldwide web of wealthy and powerful men with a social network of high-priced prostitutes. The Emperors Club VIP Web site? A social search engine for the anachronistic term "call girls."
The embattled search engine Yahoo provided a convenient e-mail address: emperorsclubvi[email protected]
American Express was apparently the unofficial "official card" of The Emperors Club VIP. FBI wiretaps found numerous references to American Express in conversations between the defendants and prostitutes.
Time Warner Cable and Internet service providers (ISPs) turned over evidence and connected individuals to their e-mail accounts and personal computers.
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.
Search Engines Look the Other Way
The affidavit by FBI Agent Kenneth Hosey stated: "The defendants, and others known and unknown, would and did use and cause to be used facilities in interstate commerce, to wit, cellular telephones and e-mail, with intent to promote, manage, establish, and carry on, and to facilitate the promotion, management, establishment and carrying on of an unlawful activity, to wit, a business enterprise involving prostitution offenses in violation of applicable State law."
Search engines host and foster lots of illegal activities. On occasion, pressure is brought to bear on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Online gambling was once legal on Google. Policing of illegal prescription drugs was too, until pharm lobbyists pressured the government to clean up the industry.
Travel search engine Orbitz was named in the affidavit. Another unwitting member of the alleged prostitution conspiracy.
Technology is amoral. Search engines (if they're looking at all) look the other way.
Eliot Spitzer and The Untouchables
Time magazine once named Attorney General Eliot Spitzer "Crusader of the Year." The media sometimes referred to him as "Eliot Ness," a reference to the legendary leader of The Untouchables, the FBI team that brought down Al Capone. Today, Spitzer was only Client 9, Client #9 or Client Number Nine, depending on who was doing the searching online.
Innocent until proven guilty, New York Gov. Spitzer hasn't come clean about his activities, only issuing a vague apology in a press conference.
On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the Wall Street crowd cheered the news -- many glad to see Spitzer go; a few nervous perhaps about who Client 1 through Client 8 may be. Dealbreaker.com, a Wall Street gossip site, ran the news under a headline that the New York Times termed "too vulgar to print in a family newspaper." (As opposed to the family-safe language of nytimes.com, where the prostitution ring story broke yesterday.)
No Need for Police Escorts
Spitzer could be charged under the Mann Act -- AKA the White-Slave Traffic Act.
Passed in 1910, the Mann Act banned the interstate transport of women for "immoral purposes." The four defendants -- Temeka Rachelle Lewis, Mark Brener, Cecil Suwal and Tanya Hollander -- were charged last week with violations of the Mann Act in the FBI sting operation.
Spitzer paid for the Amtrak ticket of the Emperors Club VIP prostitute (named only as "Kristen" a "petite, pretty brunette, 5-feet-5 inches and 105 pounds") from New York to Washington. He also paid for her hotel room. As the transport of a woman for "immoral purposes," that makes Spitzer subject to federal felony charges under the Mann Act. Federal prosecution of prostitution-related offenses are rare, Michael Bachner, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office, told the WSJ.
The agent said she had been told the client "would ask you to do things that ... you might not think were safe ... very basic things," according to the affidavit. Kristen responded, "I have a way of dealing with that ... I'd be, like, 'Listen dude, you really want the sex?'"
Vertical Search Engine for Horizontal Strategies
The defendants controlled the Emperors Club Web site, which included photographs of prostitutes' bodies, with their heads hidden, along with hourly rates for different categories of prostitutes.
The prostitutes, for the most part, didn't seem concerned about connecting their bodies with their identities. One new prostitute was concerned because she wanted to be more anonymous, and didn't want to be pictured on the Web site in part because of her family background.
One defendant told the new prostitute it was in her interest to have pictures on the Web site. The defendant then said, "There are some pictures where I think that even if you knew who the person was, you couldn't really identify [them”."
The Yahoo Mail Emperors Club VIP Account
The FBI noted the Emperors Club utilized the e-mail address "[email protected]" The defendants received applications from women seeking to work as prostitutes with their prostitution business at various e-mail accounts.
For example, on January 24 around 1:46 p.m., Temeka Rachelle Lewis, a.k.a. Rachelle, the defendant ... left a voicemail message for a woman using the name "Sophia," whom the FBI agent believes to have been a London-based prostitute working with the Emperors Club.
Hosey stated, "In the message, Lewis asked Sophia to 'send an e-mail as soon as possible to [email protected],' and, after repeating this e-mail address, Lewis explained that 'it may just be easier if we speak over the phone. But if you can't call ... please try to send an e-mail, to let me know your availability for tonight.'"
Getting access to the e-mail records was easy for the FBI. No doubt the defendants' PC will yield even more incriminating evidence.
Hosey wrote, "On or about January 25, 2008, I obtained login records for the Emperors Club E-Mail Account. These records reflect that, between December 10, 2007, and January 24, 2008, the Emperors Club E-Mail Account was accessed more than 100 times from a computer with the Internet protocol (IP) Address (censored)."
The FBI obtained a search warrant from a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York for the content of the e-mail account entitled "[email protected]" used "primarily by Mark Brenner and Cecil Suwal to recruit new prostitutes for the Emperors Club." As a result of the search warrant, the FBI obtained more than 6,000 e-mails relating to the Emperors Club's operations.
Privacy? There is no privacy for persons of interest.
Time Warner Cable: Broadband Plays On
Time Warner (formerly known as AOL Time Warner) played a key part in the investigation, too. Time Warner, the same company that released millions of confidential AOL searches.
The court papers state, "According to records obtained from Time Warner Cable, this IP address (censored) was used more than a dozen times -- including numerous of the dates and times when this IP address accessed the Emperors Club E-Mail -- during January of 2008 by an account subscribed to by (censored) at (censored)."
The defendants communicated via text message about the fact that the three-day rates for two of the Emperors Club prostitutes were $50,000 and $35,000, respectively.
All the facts aren't in yet. The FBI agent said he only provided enough information to press charges.
Here's a prediction for top searches in the coming weeks: Client 1, Client 2, Client 3, Client 4, Client 5, Client 6, Client 7, Client 8. "John" will be a popular keyword. Mayflower Hotel, Mayflower Madam, Clinton and Lewinsky will all be searched for with a clear database of intentions.
The most searched keywords of all? The Emperors VIP Club call girl aliases: Felana, Samantha, Sophie, Raquel, Madison, Trina and many, many more.
As for the governor?
Eliot. Phone home.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!