Prosecutors and defense attorneys have presented contrasting views of a New York woman jailed on a seven-figure bail on a single charge of promoting prostitution.
Anna Gristina’s lawyers have portrayed her as a dedicated suburban mom, animal rescuer and former real estate broker who was working on building an online dating service. They said she’s a target of an unfairly sensationalized case.
But prosecutors contend she’s an arrogant, multimillion-dollar madam who boasted of ties to law enforcement and stashed cash to flee if authorities tried to close in on her.
“A caring mother of four has been slapped with a $2 million bond” one of her lawyers, Peter J. Gleason, said after a judge refused Tuesday to lower the bail.
In an interview on “Good Day New York,” Wednesday Gleason said the prosecution has not shared with the defense team information about its allegations that the Monroe, N.Y., woman peddled underage girls and had police protection.
He said the underage allegation was “a ploy that the police will sometimes use if they have a hostile client that they want to break,” he said.
He also said he never asked his client about reports of a “black book” containing names of influential clients.
“As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t exist,” Gleason said.
On Tuesday, the bespectacled, 44-year-old Scottish immigrant looked glum and tried to turn away from the news cameras clustered in the courtroom for her brief appearance. She was arrested Feb. 22, but news of the case broke with a splash Monday. She has pleaded not guilty.
A legal U.S. resident originally from the Scottish Highlands, Gristina maintains a home for rescued animals, said another of her lawyers, Richard Siracusa. She’s never been in legal trouble before and has surrendered her passport, he said, but has a bail that would denote “a heinous criminal.”
But state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said “the risk of flight seems significant” in Gristina’s case.
Prosecutors say Gristina was heard during a five-year investigation saying she’d made millions of dollars over about 15 years of arranging trysts. She has wealthy clients and friends who “have an interest in not having this case go forward” and could help her run, they said. She also was heard saying she would flee if she heard trouble was coming, and evidence suggests she has money set aside for just that purpose, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan told the judge Tuesday.
Gristina “essentially assured anyone who asked that she has connections in law enforcement who will let her know if anything is going to come down, in terms of a criminal indictment,” he said.
Police have declined to comment. Gleason said he didn’t know who else prosecutors might be eyeing in the case; a co-defendant has yet to be arrested and hasn’t been identified by authorities. Gleason said he didn’t know of any offer to Gristina to cooperate with prosecutors in building a case against anyone else.
“If there was any cop involved in this, they should have been up there in handcuffs” in court, he said.
When an indictment did come last month, Gristina was evidently unaware of it beforehand.
When arrested in midtown Manhattan, she was with a friend and Morgan Stanley banker, having been to his office for a meeting to try to raise money to finance what prosecutors believe may be an online prostitution business, Linehan said at her arraignment last month. The investment bank declined to comment Tuesday.
Gleason, however, said Gristina was setting up a legal dating business, hoping to rival online titan Match.com. Private investigator Vincent Parco said Gristina had hired him because she wanted to make sure potential members didn’t have criminal backgrounds.
“She has some legitimate business interests ... nothing to do with the sex trade,” Parco said.
Gleason said Wednesday Gristina wanted to target “upscale clients” through her dating business.
“I know this sets off a lot of bells and whistles but it’s really irrelevant,” he said. “If somebody wants to pay a fee per month to use this site and they’re an upscale gentleman who wants to meet an upscale lady that’s really their prerogative.”
According to prosecutors, Gristina often used an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side as a setting for the sexual encounters she arranged, some of them involving minors. But Gleason said the defense investigation had found no sign that underage girls were enmeshed in any of the alleged activities.
He called the case a sign of “hypocrisy” in how society treats women accused of involvement in prostitution, compared to alleged male patrons.
Managers of the apartment building, an unassuming, four-story walk-up, didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday; efforts to reach a representative for its corporate owner were unsuccessful. Prosecutors have said they believe the building belongs to a lawyer who helped Gristina set up her business and launder money.
Gristina lives on a 12-acre property in Monroe, about 50 miles north of New York City.
Her husband, Kelvin Gorr, told the Daily News of New York that he was “heartbroken” about the case.
“We are just a great family ... and my wife means everything to me,” Gorr, who has been married to Gristina for 10 years, told the newspaper.
Prosecutors said several of her children are adults; Gleason declined to give the children’s ages.
Gristina is due back in court May 3. If convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.