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During her four years as a concierge at Houston's Ritz-Carlton, Kareen Eichmann was accustomed to receiving -- and was skilled at fulfilling -- requests for special favors from the four-star hotel's wealthy international clientele.
Tickets to the opera or ballet?
The best table at the right restaurant? Step right this way.
Admittance to an exclusive club? You're there.
But in late 1991, Eichmann claims, she was asked to perform a task that was not only out of the ordinary but illegal. And Eichmann says that as a result of her refusal to provide a hotel guest with a couple of prostitutes -- in other words, to act as a pimp -- she was fired from her job as chief concierge at the exclusive Galleria-area hotel. The 46-year-old New Zealand native is now suing the Atlanta-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
In a deposition taken this summer by the hotel's attorney, Eichmann alleged that toward the end of 1991 (she wasn't sure of the month) the then-manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Luis Argate, took her aside and asked her to find two female prostitutes -- one black and one white -- for a Mexican businessman, an important and frequent guest of the hotel. The manager told her that keeping the guest happy might land him an invitation to the businessman's villa in Acapulco, she testified.
Eichmann said in her deposition that she rejected Argate's request, telling him it was illegal and immoral, and instructed her staff of concierges not to indulge similar requests.
However, she also said that the presence of call girls at the Ritz-Carlton is "part and parcel of international business."
"[Prostitutes] are sent from one businessman to another businessman," Eichmann maintained. "If you work there at night, there is a general parade of these women going past the front desk. I mean, you would have to be absolutely ignorant to not know what's going on."
Eichmann also testified that she informed hotel security about the episode, but was met with indifference.
"They just said, 'Oh, yes,'" Eichmann recalled. "And everybody went on with their business."
Her lawyer, Richard London, says the hotel manager set out to get rid of Eichmann after she refused to fill the guest's special room service order.
"He clearly wanted her gone," says London. "He really started to lean on her pretty hard on little things."
According to the lawyer, Eichmann was eventually fired in April 1992, with the hotel using a missing diary that belonged to the Irish rock band U2 as an excuse. The band's "tour diary" was apparently misplaced or misappropriated when U2 was staying at the hotel, London says, and some entries in the journal ended up being leaked to the media. The diary turned up in Eichmann's desk.
"It wasn't stolen," says London. "It was picked up, put into a desk and locked up. Then some other employees of the hotel took it and some issue was made public and the management of the rock band was quite upset about it. [The hotel] tried to attribute that to Kareen, even though she didn't know anything about it or have anything to do with it. She didn't even know about it being in her desk until the day that the incident came up. And she was fired over that."
U2's publicity agency did not respond to a request for comment, and Argate, who is no longer employed at the Ritz-Carlton, could not be located. Management of the Ritz-Carlton declined to comment on the lawsuit. (Eichmann's allegation isn't the first time the hotel has been ensnared in controversy; in 1992, two employees of a Saudi Arabian prince alleged they had been kept as slaves by the prince in the hotel.)
Eichmann served for a time as president of the Houston Concierges Association. The organization's current president, Guy LaPlant, who works at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, says he finds it hard to believe that the manager at any quality hotel such as the Ritz-Carlton would ask a concierge to provide a customer with a prostitute.
"I don't know of anybody that would do that," says LaPlant. "It's not like it's in our job description."
But Eichmann insists she was indeed asked to act as a procurer, and her lawyer says the episode and her subsequent firing left Eichmann suffering from an extended and debilitating bout of depression. He also says that his client, who is now a pre-med student at Tomball College, will never again be able to land a job as a concierge. A concierge, says London, is only as good as his or her contacts -- and Eichmann no longer has any.
"She was naive," says the lawyer. "She assumed she could follow the law and do her job and nobody would take advantage of her. She's real disappointed in the Ritz-Carlton. She held them in very high regard.