A rare glimpse inside the Emperors Club

March 12, 2008 6:29:08 PM PDT
If a customer had the money, Emperors Club VIP had the women. For the right price, the New York escort service flew prostitutes to Beverly Hills and London, Miami and Paris. A trip to Europe could cost more than $25,000. An hour could run $5,500.

The business had a colorful cast of characters: Leggy models with names like Raquel, Chrissy and Maya; a booking agent who graduated from an elite New Jersey prep school; an owner with a background in financial consulting; and wealthy customers such as the governor of New York.

Eliot Spitzer's resignation over his links to the club will forever make it synonymous with a historic sex scandal.

The agency generated at least $1 million in the past four years by supplying call girls to an untold number of wealthy clients, prosecutors said.

But its profitable run came to end last week after federal agents shut down the service based on hundreds of intercepted phone calls and text messages. In doing so, the agents also pulled back the curtain on a lucrative operation.

"This is definitely at the high end," said Ron Weitzer, a sociology professor at George Washington University and an expert on the sex industry.

Mark Brener, 62, and Cecil "Katie" Suwal, 23, are accused of running the agency.

Brener, an Israeli native with an expertise in financial consulting, recruited the prostitutes and marketed the club, and Suwal, who graduated from the prestigious Blair Academy in New Jersey, handled its day-to-day operations, prosecutors said.

The business apparently didn't need much to get started other than cell phones and a tempting Web site that offered call-girl profiles.

Take "Anais" for instance.

"Her vibrant personality and positive, free-spirited perspective ensure the perfect evening. Meet gorgeous Anais and discover the splendor of life all over again," the Web site said.

Another escort named "Maya" claims to have won the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest and has an "incomparable look and electrifying presence."

The Emperors Club offered more than 50 girls, saying they are "the types of women who can handle themselves well in any situation." They were given diamond ratings, which allowed the agency to charge more. More diamonds equaled more money.

To handle the trysts, the club sought out reliable booking agents - smart, efficient women who could bring client and call girl together without hassles.

According to court records, the two primary booking agents were Tania Hollander, 36, and Temeka Lewis, 23. Hollander is a SUNY Binghamton graduate, and Lewis who attended the University of Virginia, one the top public schools in the country.

The idea behind the agency was conceived in December 2004, according to the federal complaint. That year, Suwal created a shell company called QAT Consulting Group and later QAT International - both fronts for the agency, authorities said.

Clients could pay for the services with money orders or wire transfers and even use their American Express cards.

"A big component of the operation is to give some sort of comfort to the patron," said Barry Agulnick, who represented Jason Itzler, one of New York's most notorious pimps. "That's why you have these shell corporations. This is the blanket of security for the johns."

Wealthy clients wanted assurance that they wouldn't be exposed.

One client asked Lewis if there was any "traceability." He added that "you sometimes hear of these agencies getting busted, you know. That's my really only concern," according to court papers.

Lewis reassured him: "You're fine."

The clients generally seemed pleased with the women, though one complained that a particular prostitute was "more sex than sexy."

But the women could be difficult at times, according to the criminal complaint. One woman missed her appointment, and the agency suspected drug use. Brener ultimately decided not to use the woman anymore, the papers said.

Drugs had gotten in the way: "A lot of these girls deteriorate to this point," Brener was quoted as saying.

One prostitute left early to pick up her children. Suwal noted that women with kids have "a little more baggage." The agency was also having trouble collecting money from "Samantha," who they believed was doing drugs, too, authorities said.

Recruiting was also a challenge. The agency couldn't provide adequate variety in Miami or enough women for one client. One potential prostitute complained the payments were not enough.

"This is the kind of money I make very easily in photo shoots," she wrote. She also didn't like the idea of having sex twice in an hour and then not getting dinner.

"I don't think this is my kind of thing," she said.

The Emperors Club was also linked to another business: the Emperors Club (of) Contemporary Art. It's not clear if this was just another way to access the escort service and if the women were the "art." The art club served New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris - the same cities as the escort service.

"One of the many ways by which we create and add special value to already extraordinarily affluent lives, is by enabling direct access to some of the world's most captivating, authentic contemporary art available," the art club's Web site said.

Itzler, the well-known pimp who got out of prison about seven months ago, said the Emperors Club had an excellent business model. He was impressed with its Web site, the photography and the writing used to hype the women.

"The Emperors Club seemed to have a tight game and did a great job at going after the best of the best of clients with the best of the best girls," Itzler said.

Itzler said he wasn't fazed when Spitzer's name surfaced, and he wouldn't be surprised if other powerful people make headlines in the future.

"Logically any escort agency that has the ability to attract Eliot Spitzer could attract other people who are similar. It would be ridiculous to assume that Eliot Spitzer is the only high-profile guy attracted to this agency."