Ashley Alexandra Dupre seemed to have come so far. As she recounted in a cloying, cliché-filled bio on her MySpace page—that may or may not be true--she battled bouts of drug abuse and homelessness before cracking into the music scene and pursuing her dream of becoming a singer. "I live in New York and am on top of the world," she wrote. She recently recorded a track called "What We Want" and settled in to a $3,500-per-month studio outfitted with imported tile and stainless-steel appliances in a posh Manhattan building. But according to authorities, Dupre, 22, led a secret life as a high-end hooker who went by the nickname "Kristen." She might have continued turning tricks in obscurity were it not for the misfortune of linking up with one alleged client in particular: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
In their pursuit of Spitzer, the feds stumbled upon an elite escort service known as the Emperors Club VIP. Operating in cities stretching from Los Angeles to London, the outfit catered to an elite tier of clients willing to pay hourly rates of up to $5,500 and daily rates as high as $31,000, authorities say. It allegedly racked up more than $1 million in illicit proceeds and funneled the money through a network of shell companies. Last week, federal prosecutors in New York arrested four individuals on prostitution and money laundering charges in connection with the case, including Mark Brener and Cecil Suwal, the alleged founders of the Emperors Club. In a raid on their New Jersey home, authorities seized more than $600,000 cash and two Israeli passports. Both are now behind bars, though neither has yet been formally indicted. (Suwal's attorney says she's "presumed to be innocent"; Brener's lawyer didn't return a call for comment.)
The two, who are believed to be romantically involved, make for an odd pair. Brener, 62, is short and pot-bellied, while Suwal, 23, was a member of the track team at a select New Jersey boarding school. The couple drew the attention of authorities in 2005. According to a police report obtained by The Record, a New Jersey newspaper, a neighbor called the cops after hearing someone in their apartment scream, "Daddy, please don't hit me!" When officers arrived, they realized that the incident involved two consenting adults having sex. Kinkiness aside, they apparently formed a solid business team. In an FBI affidavit, Brener comes across as the big-picture entrepreneur and Suwal as the nuts-and-bolts operator. Their two alleged booking agents, Tania Hollander and Temeka Lewis, were also arrested last week on prostitution charges (though they have yet to be formally indicted). A holistic health counselor on the side, Hollander offers this description of her work on her Web site: "I am your personal advocate for living an energized and passionate life." Her fiance Lance Cyrlin laments, "What's so sad about this is her business is just starting to blossom and it's based on reputation."
The FBI affidavit, which includes wiretapped conversations, offers a unique window into the shrouded world of an escort service. The bosses speculate that one hooker who sends a "crazy text" message appears to be succumbing to drugs, and they complain about another they suspect of cutting short a session to pick up her kids. One girl yearns to make it into the Emperors Club's exclusive clique of "Icon models," while another prospective prostitute complains that $1,000 per hour "is not a price I would ever consider of doing it for." One client worries about "traceability," saying he could get the expenditure on a tryst "past my accountant and auditor as a business expense but you sometimes hear of these agencies getting busted." He marvels at the quality of the Emperors Club hookers. "Two A-pluses in a row," he says. "I don't know where you get these young ladies."
So far, Dupre and the other alleged Emperors Club prostitutes have avoided criminal charges, though they could be called as witnesses. Dupre's attorney declined to comment other than to say his client "received a grand jury subpoena." Her career as a call girl is likely over, but if it's any consolation, her single "What We Want" has been playing on local radio stations and as of Friday, had logged more than 240,000 listeners on the Web site amiestreet.com. The tune is now fetching 98 cents per download, much better than it was going for before the Spitzer scandal—less than 20 cents. Maybe she'll finally realize that dream of becoming a singer after all.