Tough Words Come Back to Haunt Spitzer

Defense lawyers call the former N.Y. state attorney general hypocritical.

ByABC News
March 10, 2008, 6:38 PM

March 10, 2008— -- In 2004, then-New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced criminal charges against 16 alleged members of a profitable prostitution ring based in Staten Island.

"This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multi-tiered management structure," Spitzer said at the time. "It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring, and now its owners and operators will be held accountable."

It was one of the many cases brought by Spitzer's office that helped develop his reputation as a tough-on-crime moral crusader, and one of at least two prostitution cases he oversaw.

But, Spitzer himself is now the target of an investigation linking him to an upscale prostitution ring, ABC News has confirmed. Spitzer issued a general apology Monday at a news conference in Manhattan but would not respond to allegations of his involvement in the ring. He also declined to say whether he would resign.

"I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right or wrong," he said.

Vincent Romano, the attorney for Frank Farella, who was sentenced to prison in the Staten Island prostitution ring case, said of Spitzer, "If it is true, it's hypocritical and he should be treated in the same overzealous, mean-spirited way he treated other similarly situated people."

As Attorney General, Spitzer was known for his ambition, his confrontational style and willingness to take on everyone from gun manufacturers to mortgage lenders. Time Magazine called him a "tireless crusader." Others dubbed him the "sheriff" of Wall Street. That reputation helped him easily win election as New York's governor.

"Some public officials may not want to face stricter ethics rules and more competitive elections," he said at his inauguration. "But all citizens will win when we finally get a government that puts the people's interests, openness and integrity first."

During his time as attorney general, Spitzer brought major cases against some of the country's largest corporate giants. He also brought at least two cases against alleged prostitution rings and, as governor, signed legislation to increase penalties for international sex trafficking.