Top 10 sex scandals of 2009

BOSTON — No surprise: The topic of sex continued to attract attention in 2009, and as usual it was for all the wrong reasons.

Here are 10 public figures from around the globe caught in the glare of media and public scrutiny for their alleged — and in some cases admitted — antics.

tiger woods and elin nordegren
Tiger Woods and wife Elin Nordegren watch Game 4 of the NBA finals in Orlando, Fla., in June 2009.
(Hans Deryk/ Reuters)

1. Tiger Woods

So among the questions left unanswered in the whole sorry Tiger Woods saga is, how many? Was there one mistress, two, four, six or more? Among those who've come forward with a claim to having had sexual liaisons with the golf superstar are a cocktail waitress, two porn stars, a few party girls and a Floridian in her 40s. Go figure which among them are telling the truth and it's unlikely we'll ever find out. As the holidays approached, many were also waiting breathlessly to see if Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, would up and leave him, and of course how much of the golfer's sizable fortune she'd take with her. And this week, the entire golfing community seemed about to tip into the mire, with news that a number of fellow golfers knew Tiger was catting around — but kept their mouths shut.

2. Silvio Berlusconi

One from the Tiger Woods book: Berlusconi keeps everyone guessing about the number and, ahem, occupation of women either rumored, photographed — or even videotaped — in his company. The Italian Prime Minister was at the center of a swirl of scandal earlier in the year after claims emerged about the systematic recruitment of young women paid to attend private parties at his homes in Rome and Sardinia. And the Spanish newspaper El Pais published what it said were photos of racy parties at Berlusconi's villa on the island of Sardinia, including one picture that showed scantily clad women. In a more targeted attack on Berlusconi's character, the international media went into a frenzy this past spring over reports that Berlusconi went to the birthday party in Naples of an 18-year-old girl, with whom he has denied having an inappropriate relationship. Shortly thereafter, his wife of 19 years, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce.

3. Piero Marrazzo

Berlusconi's alleged dalliances with prostitutes and underage girls might have dominated Italian scandal sheets for more than six months, but they did have some competition. In Rome, a TV-host-turned-governor was forced to admit to a long history of frequenting transsexual prostitutes. Then talk of a murder was added to the mix. Piero Marrazzo was forced to step down as governor of Rome's region, Lazio, on Oct. 27 after an alleged blackmail scheme that set off the spiral of revelations about his private life. Prosecutors have now opened homicide investigations into the deaths of two people linked to Marrazzo, who was first elected in 2005 after years as host of a popular consumer watchdog talk show on the RAI national television network. Investigators say Marrazzo is not a suspect in the Nov. 20 arson that killed a Brazilian transgender prostitute known as Brenda, nor the September death of a Rome-based drug dealer named Gianguerino Cafasso that has now been ruled a homicide. But he has connections to both people. Marrazzo, who is married with three children, admitted to paying thousands of euros to be with several South American transgender prostitutes and to using cocaine.

4. Roman Polanski

Not so much a new sex scandal as the revival of an oldie but goodie — Polanski, who fled the U.S. in 1978, just before he was about to be sentenced for having illegal intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 — was arrested on an international warrant in Zurich, Switzerland, on Sept. 26. The filmmaker then spent two months in a Swiss prison and posted bail of $4.5 million, allowing him to move into his luxurious Swiss Alps chalet, albeit tethered to an electronic tagging system to ensure he stays put. So what's an indicted sex offender to do while cooling his heels in a Swiss chalet, with children Elvis, 9, Morgane, 16, and wife Emmanuelle Seigner, a French actress? Finish editing his latest movie, of course. It's called "Ghost," and is reportedly already an official selection at the next Berlin film festival.

5. Frederic Mitterrand

Frederic Mitterrand, France's culture minister and a nephew of the late president, Francois Mitterrand, in October denied paying underage boys for sex in Thailand. Mitterrand, a gay activist, writer and former TV presenter whose appointment was seen as a coup for President Nicolas Sarkozy, revealed in his 2005 autobiography, "The Bad Life," that he had paid for encounters with "young boys" in Bangkok. As if that admission weren't enough — and, for the record, he condemned sex tourism as a "disgrace" and said he'd never participated in pedophilia "in any way" — Mitterrand was among the first to leap to the defense of film director Roman Polanski, calling his arrest "terrible." In fact, this spirited defense prompted Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National to look into Mitterrand's past, et voila! 

6. John Edwards

He admitted the extramarital affair with a 42-year-old campaign employee, and admitted to repeatedly lying about it, but John Edwards has strenuously denied being involved in paying the woman hush money or fathering her newborn child. The former Democratic U.S. senator from North Carolina is locked in an ongoing money battle with Rielle Hunter, 45, whom Edwards has admitted bedding even as his wife, Elizabeth, discovered she had a recurrence of cancer. But he never admitted to fathering little Frances Quinn Hunter, now almost 2 years old. However, recent reports suggest the failed presidential hopeful is the baby's daddy — and he may soon have to pay up big-time. According to friends of Hunter, Edwards met her at a New York city bar in 2006. His political action committee later paid her $114,000 to produce campaign website documentaries despite her lack of experience. Edwards said the affair began during the campaign after she was hired. For the record, Edwards made a point of telling Bob Woodruff, in an interview aired on ABC in August, that his wife's cancer was in remission when he began the affair with Hunter.

7. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy

In early March, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa suspended seven girls — that's right — for sexual misconduct and the harassment of other pupils. But wait: The suspensions were the second sex controversy to plague the school, which opened in early 2007. The Afrikaans on Sunday newspaper wrote that one 15-year-old girl "preyed" on a schoolmate and coerced others into lying to officials investigating the alleged incidents, while six other pupils were excluded from the $46 million girls-only boarding school after being alleged to have touched each other intimately, or "intimidating others" into doing so. The prior scandal came just 10 months after the academy opened, when dorm matron Virginia Tiny Makgobo was arrested for "indecent assault and soliciting under-age girls to perform indecent acts." Here's Oprah's take:

8. Mark Sanford

At least Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina got a little creative, sending the media (and possibly his own aides) on a wild goose chase after going AWOL for seven days in June. For two days after reporters started asking questions, Sanford's office said he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trial. First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press at the time that she did not know where her husband had gone for the Father's Day weekend. When he finally re-emerged, Sanford tearfully admitted that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he'd been having an affair — a "dear, dear friend" for about eight years with whom he'd only recently become "romantic." After apologizing to his wife and four sons, he issued a statement promising to reimburse the state for an economic-development trip he took to Argentina last year that included time spent with his mistress (the trip cost $8,000). The State Commerce Department might have forgiven him, but evidently his wife never did — in early December, Jenny Sanford filed for divorce. 

9. Governor N.D. Tiwar

A senior Congress leader and governor of a southern Indian state resigned in late December after a local television channel aired a video of the 86-year-old allegedly in bed with three young women. Governor N.D. Tiwari, a top representative of India's president in Andhra Pradesh state, said the footage was doctored, but an embarrassed Congress party — facing protests over statehood demands — asked the governor to resign. The three-and-half minute footage was the most watched video on YouTube over Christmas weekend in India and newspapers splashed front page stories on the sex scandal, which has sparked online debates about the conduct of politicians in India.

10. Eliot Spitzer (a.k.a. Client 9)

OK, it's so 2008, but proving that even sex scandals can have happy endings, consider developments in the case of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned March 17, 2008, in the wake of the exposure of his involvement in a high-priced prostitution ring. Ashley Dupree, the $5,500-a-night hooker with whom Spitzer — sock and all — rendezvous'd in D.C. now has her own advice column and is making something of a name for herself commenting on other sex scandals. Spitzer's recovery, meantime, has been nothing short of miraculous. The former state attorney general, who won kudos as the "Sheriff of Wall Street," is reportedly considering a run for state comptroller in 2010. The speculation has ramped up after a string of public appearances by Spitzer focusing on the collapse of the economy and President Barack Obama's stimulus plans. Otherwise, Spitzer has been biding his time writing op-eds for such venerable mastheads as the New York Times and Washington Post.