Friday, March 14, 2008

Spitzer Defense Lawyers Worked in Prosecutor's Office

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Eliot Spitzer may have made a smart move when choosing lawyers to help him avoid criminal charges for soliciting prostitutes. Two were top attorneys in the same office handling his case.

Michele Hirshman, now a defense lawyer, ran the unit in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan that's investigating whether the governor broke the law by allegedly paying thousands of dollars to an international call-girl operation. Mark Pomerantz headed the office's criminal division and was once the boss of Michael Garcia, now the top federal prosecutor in New York.

In private talks with the government, the two white-collar defense partners at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York may know precisely how to tailor arguments to sway prosecutors, citing past instances when law enforcement officials chose not to press charges.

``White-collar practice in New York is substantially dominated by former prosecutors for good reason,'' said Daniel Richman, an ex-prosecutor in same office and now a Columbia Law School professor. ``So much of white-collar lawyering is understanding where the government is coming from and explaining to them that what your client did may have been illegal but nonetheless ought not to be pursued by the government.''

Garcia's spokeswoman, Rebekah Carmichael, declined to comment on negotiations between the two sides, which have begun, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter. Paul Weiss spokeswoman Madelaine Miller declined to comment on the firm's role in the talks.

Emperors Club VIP

Spitzer, who resigned two days ago, effective March 17, is under investigation for payments he made to what prosecutors said was an international prostitution and money-laundering ring called the ``Emperors Club VIP,'' the official said.

Prosecutors are trying to determine whether any of Spitzer's campaign funds were used in connection with prostitutes, the New York Times reported today, citing three unidentified people familiar with the inquiry. The government lawyers have asked for information about hotel and travel costs, the newspaper said.

Spitzer told his aides his use of prostitutes began eight months ago and didn't involve campaign funds or public money, the Times cited some of the unidentified aides as saying.

In a criminal complaint against four people linked to the ring, prosecutors said March 6 that an unidentified person known as Client 9 paid $4,300 for sex with a New York prostitute named ``Kristen'' at a Washington hotel in February. Front companies for the club accepted payments, according to the complaint.

Mann Act

Client 9 is Spitzer, the law enforcement official said. Spitzer's lawyers are seeking to negotiate a settlement of possible charges including violations of the Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport someone across state lines for prostitution, and improper structuring of financial transactions, the official said.

Kristen was identified by the New York Times as Ashley Dupre, 22, of Manhattan. Her original name was Ashley Youmans, the paper said. On March 10, Ashley Youmans appeared in Manhattan federal court, where her lawyer, Don Buchwald, said she was subpoenaed as a witness in a grand jury investigation, according to a recording of the proceeding. Buchwald confirmed she received a subpoena, declining to say she is Kristen or whether she testified.

Spitzer hasn't been charged nor has he said he paid any prostitutes, apologizing only for ``a private matter.''

Lawyers' Relationships

Individual relationships among the lawyers probably won't be an issue. Two of the three assistant prosecutors handling the probe, Daniel Stein and Rita Glavin, weren't in the prosecutor's office while Pomerantz and Hirshman were there. The third, Boyd Johnson, was handling minor drug cases during Hirshman's last months in the office.

Pomerantz and Hirshman do bring to Spitzer's defense team an intimate knowledge of many of the major decisions made by the U.S. Attorney in the 1990s.

A 56-year-old Brooklyn native, Pomerantz was a law clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart before joining the prosecutor's office. He rose to oversee the appellate unit. After working in private practice, he returned to run the criminal division.

Hirshman spent 11 years as a U.S. prosecutor, including a stint as chief of the public-corruption unit. She left in 1999 to become Spitzer's top aide when he was New York attorney general.

Also part of the team is Theodore Wells, who unsuccessfully defended former vice presidential aide Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby last year for lying about the leak of the identity of a U.S. intelligence agent.

Represented Torricelli

Pomerantz and Wells represented former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who was the focus of a four- year investigation into his personal and campaign finances. U.S. prosecutors in New York closed a criminal investigation in January 2002 without filing charges.

Prosecutors will focus first on the facts, the strength of their evidence and the length of Spitzer's alleged involvement with the Emperors Club.

If the case against Spitzer is ambiguous or the law is murky, arguments advanced by the Paul Weiss lawyers may prevail.

``It is a clubby place,'' said Andrew McCarthy, former chief assistant U.S. attorney, who worked under Pomerantz and Hirshman and was Garcia's onetime boss. ``It always made a difference to me if it was someone who served with me in the office. It didn't mean I would necessarily cut the person a break but I was probably more inclined to listen to the person more.''

To contact the reporters on this story: David Glovin in New York federal court at ; Patricia Hurtado in New York state Supreme Court at .