March 19, 2008: Enough with the sack stuff. The real eye opener about Eliot Spitzer isn't his compulsion to heave ho, but his willingness to disguise payments via an international criminal enterprise that specialized in money laundering. To make matters worse, Governor Spitzer had presidential ambitions. Meaning a guy with exploitable criminal connections might have wound up in the White House. Cynics say hey-- it wouldn't be the first time. But that doesn't make the betrayal of public trust any less foul.
(Please note that all statements about Eliot Spitzer and parties involved with his downfall should be read with the word “alleged” fixed firmly in mind.)
Emperors Club VIP, the prostitution service Spitzer patronized, washed customer payments through QAT Consulting Group. Aka QAT International, Inc. Aka QAT this and that. Lord knows how many QATs. What does “QAT” mean? Is it a conglom of initials, or an acronym of a phrase? A nod to Kliban's cartoon cat? Or does it refer to “qat”; a plant with an amphetamine buzz and a rep as an aphrodisiac?
Qat (also called khat, pronounced “cot”) is grown mainly in Northeast Africa (the Horn of Africa) and the Arab Peninsula. Qat contains cathinone, a natural amphetamine. Within a few days after harvesting, the cathinone breaks down into cathine, a milder amphetamine. The fresher the qat, the harder the hit. You chew it to do it the trad way. In countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen, qat is widely used. In Yemen alone, users are estimated at roughly 7 million. Most of them men. Qat is the dominant crop in Yemen, to the detriment of the economy. Though qat is grown in countries that are predominantly Muslim, other Muslim countries (including Saudi Arabia) ban qat. Qat has made inroads in the West. Britain is a hot spot. Legality from country to country varies. In the US, qat is illegal. While a long, slow, herbaceous chaw has limited appeal to non-traditional users, qat can also be found in capsules of snort-friendly powder. The more potent ingredient (cathinone) in qat can be synthesized.
In Israel, qat in its leafy state is flown in from nearby Yemen. Yemenites living in Israel line up for the plane, the plane. Capsules of synthetic cathinone are popular on the Israeli night club scene. The caps are called hagigat, a hybrid of the Hebrew word for “party” and khat. An effort is afoot to make hagigat illegal. Too many cap snappers are being hospitalized for respiratory and cardiac distress. Hagigat is sold openly at kiosks, and touted as a cross between coke and ecstasy. In September, 2004, a kiosk proprietor described hagigat to the UK Guardian: “You have power and energy and most important, it makes you incredibly horny”.* Speaking of which...
In Djibouti, which is described by the CIA World Factbook as “a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation” qat has been linked to a high level of AIDS in prostitutes. A Somalia Watch study (Qat Trade in Africa) posted in May, 2007, cites a report suggesting that “men, high on qat, go to women and refuse to wear condoms. As a result of the increased aggression produced by qat, the women are afraid to deny the men...”
The qat that does all that may have nothing to do with QAT Consulting and QAT International. As said, QAT may be an acronym. Possibly for “Quietly Artfully Tax-less”.
Whereas the Emperors Club VIP website made its purpose crystal clear with pictures of women sans faces, described as “fashion models, pageant winners, and exquisite students”(a tonier version of the ever popular Hot Co-eds) the purpose of QAT Consulting (qatgroup dot com) was more oblique. QAT specialized “in all legal ways in arranging suitable and lawful USA offshore structuring for your business and your private affairs” and promised that “your privacy is strictly yours and your business/tax affairs will always remain yours (sic) private matters”. QAT could also help design “your office, website and etc., applying feng shui principles that would enhance your profit capability.” QAT's “highly qualified associates” included “investment consultants, lawyers, bankers” and “artists and feng shui masters”.
When emperors such as Eliot Spitzer accessed Club VIP, they were told payments would go to QAT and hence, would appear to be for non-sexual services. Payments could be made by credit card, wire transfers, or in cash. Since Eliot Spitzer was state attorney general prior to becoming governor, and a district attorney before that, he doubtless saw many black money holes in cyberspace. And since Spitzer busted prostitution rings and advocated against human trafficking, he must have seen plenty of pics of faceless fashion models, pageant winners, and exquisite students. So why choose Emperors Club and QAT out of the crowd? Hard to imagine Spitzer ringing up a ho shop at random, saying: “Hi. This is Governor Eliot Spitzer. I'd like to order an exquisite student and have my money trail erased. And oh yeah-- don't tell anyone”. A more likely scenario is that Emperors Club VIP was recommended by a friend.
If so, some other emperor must be shaking in his shorts for fear the feds will come calling.
Emperors Club VIP operated out of a high rise in Cliffside Park in Bergen County, New Jersey. One of the Gold Coast towns across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Mark Brener, aka Michael, was the big pimp. Brener is 62. Cecil Suwal, Brener's 23 year old girlfriend, did the banking, made arrangements with clients and prostitutes, and was Emperors Club webmaster. In transcripts, “Ceci” comes across cold as ice. Peddling flesh as if it were furniture.
Cecil Suwal is reportedly from a well-off family. Her father owns a number of businesses based in Yonkers, in Westchester County, New York. Including a distribution and merchandising firm servicing supermarkets in New York and Jersey. Suwal's father also owns property in Yonkers in which Kimber Manufacturing is a tenant. Kimber is a small arms manufacturer with extensive law enforcement and military contracts. Kimber is registered at the New York State Department Division of Corporations as a foreign business corporation.
Cecil Suwal often traveled with Mark Brener. Around North Jersey for hooker bookings and on business trips to California and Florida. In early 2008, Suwal accompanied Brener on a visit to an Emperors Club outpost in London. (The Club also operated in Paris and Zürich.) Cecil aka Kate aka Katie is said to be a looker. Brener not so. Neighbors interviewed by the (Newark) Star-Ledger, described him as a short man who looks far older than his 62 years. Some claimed a toupee “perched atop his narrow head”.** He speaks in a thick Israeli accent.
Paging Peter Sellers...
As well as a mack, Mark Brener is a financial consultant. His attorney says Brener is a US citizen and licensed to represent taxpayers before the IRS. Before immigrating in the 1980s, Brener worked for Israel's version of the IRS. His first residence stateside was in NYC, in the Forest Hills section of the borough of Queens. In the 90s, Brener and his family moved to South Brunswick in Middlesex County, New Jersey. His wife Eleanor died there of cancer in 1997. Neighbors who remember the Breners paint them as well-heeled. They also say Mark and his wife traveled around the country and abroad, seeking remedies for her condition. After his wife died Mark Brener seemed to suffer a financial setback, possibly related to medical bills. He rented out his condo and moved back to Queens, leaving behind thousands in unpaid bills and taxes. Brener lived in several Queens nabes, at addresses in Forest Hills, Kew Garden Hills, and Middle Village. An eviction is on record in Forest Hills in 2001. While in Queens, Brener remarried. Briefly. A much younger Chinese woman named Lianghui Chen. Divorce ended that one.
According to several Queens news sources Mark Brener was on record in 2002 as resident in a modest Middle Village apartment building. A man named Morgan Chang and a woman named Chen Liang Hui, rented an apartment at the same address in the same period. Website domain info at Whois shows Morgan Chang as an administrative contact for “emperorsclubvip”. In Middle Village, Chang and his female companion were asked to leave their apartment after the owner of the building (who lived on the premises) and her son saw a string of different male visitors visiting the apartment night after night. The son also claims to have seen Chen Liang Hui being beaten by two men.
QAT Consulting Group and its related entity Protech Consultants, Inc. were registered with the New York State Department Division of Corporations in 1988. Both at a Flushing address. Both are now inactive. QAT International, Inc. was registered in 2006 at a Manhattan address and is still active. There are several other living and dead entities floating around in the registration ether that could be kin to QAT.
QAT do get around. In June, 2006, a call girl ring was busted in a midtown Manhattan condo; financial documents connected to QAT Consulting were found on the premises. The ring catered to what the Daily News calls “financial titans”.*** Time Warner Chief Financial Officer Wayne Pace among them. The ring's madam, Andrea Schwartz, was a former employee of Emperors Club VIP. Until the Spitzer mess broke, Schwartz was scheduled to be deported to her native Brazil. Now she's on standby in a Jersey jail. Questions questions questions. Titans can relax tho. Schwartz is said to be keeping her lip zipped.
By 2006, Mark Brener was running Emperors Club from Cliffside Park in Jersey. He'd hooked up with Cecil Suwal sometime in 2004. When the feds raided the couple's luxury co-op in early March 2008, they found an Israeli passport in Brener's name and $600,000 in cash. Perhaps Brener was getting ready to do the laundry.
Upon appearing in court, Cecil Suwal's bail was set at $500,000. Despite her family's reputed financial status, they had a hard time coming up with the $50,000 required for bond. On March 18th, federal prosecutors arranged for Suwal to be released. She has to produce the 50 thou by April 8th. The get-out-of-jail arrangement has been characterized as a deal. When Mark Brener was arraigned, federal prosecutors asked that he not be granted bail. Citing his Israeli passport and the $600,000. The judge complied. Here's hoping Ceci and her doily-domed Mack Daddy sing sing sing. The results, if posted at MySpace, could get more hits than Kristin's doo wah diddy. Even if Suwal and Brenner didn't do Governor Eliot Spitzer in the flesh, QAT International certainly had a piece of his action.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Note: In the original version of this article, I cited a story ("Prep school grad, 23, at center of Spitzer scandal") by Newhouse News Service which appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 03/12/08, stating that Cecil Sewal's father owned Kimber Manufacturing. According to a representative of Kimber, that AJC story was incorrect. Kimber is merely a tenant in a Yonkers property owned by Mr. Suwal.
*Drugs and dance as Israelis blot out intifada, Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, 09/04/04
**Jersey apartments thrust into the unwelcome glare of spotlight, Russell Ben-Ali and Brad Parks, The Star-Ledger, 03/11/08
*** Brazilian Madam, who worked for Emperor's Club, on way home, Barbara Ross and Rich Schapiro, Daily News, 03/14/08
Sources include but are not limited to:
Gal pal of accused prostitution ringleader cuts deal with prosecutors, Thomas Zambito, Daily News, 03/19/08
The curious king and queen of the Emperors Club, Guy Sterling and Mark Mueller, The Star-Ledger, 03/16/08
Spitzer Pimp's Roots Grow Through Queens Nabes, Matt Hampton and Austin Considine, Queens Chronicle, 03/13/08
Spitzer Prostitution Ring Has Middle Village Roots, Conor Greene, Forum West, 03/13/08
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Organizers and Managers of International Prostitution Ring, United States Attorney Southern District of New York, 03/06/08
Qat: The plague of Yemen, Suzan Ghanem, Jowhara Zindani, & Zinadine Zindani, Yemen Observer, 02/26/08
Dancing with danger: Israel's new clubbers, Michael Levertov, The Jewish Chronicle, 01/24/08
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