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Gov. Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-end prostitution ring broken up last week by federal authorities, according to law enforcement officials, a development that threatened to end the governor’s career and turned the state’s political world upside down.

Spitzer’s involvement with the prostitution operation was detailed in court papers filed last week, the officials said, as federal prosecutors brought charges against four people who had been running the service, Emperor’s Club VIP. Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap discussing payments and arranging to meet a prostitute in a Washington hotel room last month. The affidavit, which did not identify Spitzer by name, indicated that he had used the prostitution service before, although it was not clear how many times.

Spitzer appeared briefly with his wife at his Manhattan office on Monday afternoon to apologize, though he did not specifically address any involvement with the ring. He said he needed to repair his relationship with his family and decide what was best for the state, but declined to take questions, leaving after barely a minute.

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” the governor said. “I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.

“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”

The governor, a first-term Democrat, then returned to his Fifth Avenue apartment, and remained there on Monday night, receiving counsel from his advisers and considering his resignation, an aide said.

The New York Times began investigating Spitzer’s possible involvement with the prostitution ring on Friday, the day after prosecutors arrested the four people on charges of helping run the Emperors Club. After inquiries from The Times over the weekend and on Monday, the governor canceled his public schedule. An hour after The Times published a story on its Web site saying Spitzer had been linked to the ring, the governor made his statement.

The news was met with disbelief and shock in Albany, a capital accustomed to scandal. Some legislative staffers said they were too stunned to speak, and lawmakers gathered around television sets in hushed offices, trying to make sense of what had happened.

“We’re at a total standstill,” said Keith L.T. Wright, a Democratic assemblyman from Harlem. “Everybody is stunned. Everybody is absolutely stunned.”

Spitzer has not been charged with a crime. But one law enforcement official who has been briefed on the case said Spitzer’s lawyers would probably meet soon with federal prosecutors to discuss any possible legal exposure. The official said the discussions are likely to focus not on prostitution, but how it was paid for: Whether the payments from Spitzer to the service were made in a way to conceal their purpose and source. That could amount to a crime called structuring, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, declined to comment.