New York. A suburban mother accused of moonlighting as a multimillion-dollar Manhattan madam was so keen to avoid legal trouble that she left town for Canada within an hour of hearing about an earlier prostitution investigation, prosecutors said on Monday.
Prosecutors mentioned the hasty 2008 departure as Anna Gristina made her latest of several bids to get her $2 million bond reduced. A judge turned her down, saying another jurist had acted rationally in setting the amount. Defense lawyer Gary Greenwald said he planned to appeal.
Gristina, 44, has been held since her February arrest. Prosecutors say she ran a pricey prostitution service for 15 years and claimed to have law-enforcement connections who could give her a heads-up if legal trouble loomed. Her lawyers say she was simply trying to start a legitimate dating service.
While prosecutors have previously cited Gristina’s 2008 Montreal trip in arguing that she’s a flight risk, they shed new light in court papers and remarks on Monday.
She feared that she might be under surveillance and a target of the 2008 prostitution investigation that led to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation, Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan wrote.
Gristina was later recorded telling an associate that she had been tipped off and “that she fled within the hour of learning this,” Linehan told state Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon on Monday. “…There’s no plainer example that (Gristina) is a risk of flight.”
Spitzer was never charged but was publicly identified as a client of a call-girl ring at the heart of a federal case. The Manhattan DA’s office handled some related prosecutions.
Greenwald says Gristina went to Canada only because she wanted to avoid potentially being called as a witness for someone who did get entangled in those cases; her concerns had nothing to do with Spitzer, the lawyer said. A private investigator has said he was seeking Gristina at the time as a possible defense witness for a madam who eventually pleaded guilty in that case.
Gristina wasn’t charged at the time, and prosecutors didn’t take legal steps to try to force her return from Canada, Greenwald said.
“She never ran away from anything,” he said after court. While Gristina has been on prosecutors’ radar since 2004, she was charged only this year. She has pleaded not guilty to a single count of promoting prostitution.
Greenwald called the bail excessive for a mother of four who’s facing one low-level felony charge and has no prior criminal convictions.
“There is no way in hell that this is the right bail,” he said.
Monday’s hearing wasn’t technically about whether the bail was right or wrong. Rather, Solomon was tasked with reviewing whether the judge handling the case, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, had used his discretion properly in setting the bond.
Merchan weighed arguments from both sides, and “in my judgment, (his) decision is not an abuse of judgment,” Solomon said.
Prosecutors have said they believe Gristina made and squirreled away millions of dollars during years of peddling flesh. But the charge against her pertains just to a tryst she allegedly arranged this past July — a sting involving two prostitutes meeting with an undercover officer posing as a client, prosecutors said in papers filed Monday.
Gristina “discussed pricing and available prostitutes” with the undercover officer and directed him to an Upper East Side apartment for the assignation, Linehan wrote.
Also charged in the investigation are a co-defendant accused of helping Gristina run the business, two women charged as prostitutes and a man accused of laundering money.