Prosecutors are alleging that Anna Gristina was a suburban mother of four by day, Upper East Side Madam by night. Dubbed the “Soccer Mom Madam” by tabloids, Gristina has said that she was running a legitimate dating service, and there was no hint of prostitution. The colorful Gristina has been in and out of the newspapers as her case wends its way to trial, changing her legal team numerous times.
The investigation into Gristina’s business was triggered when wiretapped telephone conversations recorded Gristina claiming that her organization was untouchable because she had police protection. However, the NYPD internal affairs bureau has not been able to find any crooked cops connected with the alleged brothel. Gristina pleaded guilty in September to a single count of promoting prostitution. She was sentenced November 20 to six months in jail and five months probation and released on time served.
Gristina is charged with one count of promoting prostitution, a low-level (Class D) felony. At the high end, this charge could see her in prison for the next seven years, although generally sentences for first offenders are not that long. Many first offenders with no record get just probation, without jail time.
Manhattan’s upscale Upper East Side, usually associated with designer lapdogs and uniformed doormen, was the backdrop for the alleged brothel where the girls were beautiful and drug-free. Gristina reportedly ran a tight ship – she paid her employees enough that they did not steal from johns. She did not accept credit cards from her exclusive clientele, comprising the wealthy and powerful New York elite. She ran the business intelligently and profitably, earning more than $10 million from her 40 percent cut.
Until she was caught, that is. Gristina had been running her business for fifteen years without so much as a sniff from law enforcement. If she had not bragged on a wiretapped call that she would never be caught because she had police on her payroll, she might have continued unnoticed. Instead, that stray comment triggered an investigation into her business that stretched to the NYPD itself and even into the upper echelons of Morgan Stanley financial advisors.
After months of digging, the best the cops could find was evidence of a very high-end, profitable bordello. No police corruption or illegal involvement with the financial firm was discovered.
Gristina, who has said she was running an above-board dating service, has declined to provide prosecutors with her “little black book” of clients and has vehemently denied any illegal activity. Gristina is currently in custody, facing a very high bail of $2 million, after prosecutors claimed that her influential connections might see it in their best interest to whisk her away from the prosecution.
As her trial date approaches, she has changed her legal team several times. At her most recent hearing to change her lawyers, the judge admonished her that he would not permit further substitutions. “This is your trial team,” he told her.
While awaiting trial, this one-time resident of the upscale suburb of Westchester, Connecticut, was living in a single cell in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail. After a spirited hearing before the New York state Court of Appeal, her lawyers were finally able to convince the judges to reduce her bail from $2 million — an unprecedented sum for these charges — to $250,000 cash or to $150,000 as long as she was monitored by an ankle bracelet.
With the financial help of exectuive recruiter Bonnie Lunt, Gristina posted the $250,000 bond on June 26 and seemed excited at the prospect of getting back home and hitting the gym again. She has been ordered to stay within a 50-mile radius of her Westchester County farm and has been banned from transportation hubs.
Anna Gristina was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation after pleading guilty to promoting prostitution as part of a deal in September. She was released on time served and is now planning to write a tell-all book.
Anna Gristina – The accused, a 44-year-old mother of four, is a native of the Scottish Highlands whose passions include rescuing pigs. Her friends and neighbors thought of her as “the mom next door,” typical of her well-heeled Westchester peers.
Peter Gleason – A family lawyer for Gristina, who offered to put up his own Manhattan apartment as collateral for Gristina’s high bail. This offer was ethically murky, but ultimately irrelevant as Gristina soon switched lawyers.
Norm Pattis – Gristina’s current defense lawyer, who successfully lobbied for a more manageable bail setting for Gristina. Pattis is a well-respected defense attorney who has authored numerous scholarly articles and whose law blog, pattisblog.com, is on every good defense lawyer’s daily reading list.
Charles Linehan – The District Attorney prosecuting Gristina. Linehan had suggested that some of the trysts Gristina arranged were with underage girls, a claim that was not formally charged and vehemently denied by Gristina and her lawyers. Gristina’s former lawyer Peter Gleason speculated that Linehan made that comment to turn her fellow inmates against Gristina, since inmates are known to abuse those charged with crimes against children.
Jaynie Baker – The onetime co-defendant in this case, who has recently accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors. In all likelihood, she would testify against Gristina at trial. She was once an employee of Gristina’s and helped to arrange matches between clients.
The Evidence Behind The Count Of Conviction
Big Problems Ahead For A Small Guilty Plea?
Surprise Plea For The Soccer Mom Madame
Introduction: Every sordid detail of Gristina’s case has been all over the New York Post and other tabloids since her arrest, which will make it difficult to find an impartial jury in New York when it’s time to go to trial. Previous lawyers for Gristina have said that they were hoping for a quick plea agreement, which might tend to indicate that they do not feel that their case is strong enough to withstand the scrutiny of a jury. However, her new attorneys have not indicated that they are considering any options other than trial.
With a hard-lining prosecutor demanding astronomical bail and telling reporters he is going to ask for the maximum time in custody for Gristina, it seems like she is falling victim to the celebrity treatment – where a high-profile defendant gets far harsher treatment than the average joe because of the media attention involved. No street pimp would be looking at $2 million in bail, that’s for certain.
Most first offenders facing the same charges as Gristina get probation with no jail time. These cases are often reduced to mere misdemeanors. That Gristina is still locked up at Rikers Island and has been characterized as a flight risk is a extreme — no one is a flight risk for probation.
On the other hand, Gristina was allegedly running a prostitution ring that far outstrips anything a street pimp could have managed. The police reports allege that her clients were among the wealthiest and most influential in New York City — people who could readily arrange for her to flee the jurisdiction if she felt she needed to. She had been in business for 15 years, an unheard-of length of time for a criminal enterprise. She was hoping to put her business online and open a branch in London. This was, by all accounts, a major operation.
Another potential reason for the high bail and the aggressive quest for custody time is the amount of time and money the New York Police Department and the New York District Attorney’s Office has already sunk into this investigation and prosecution. They have been actively investigating Gristina for over five years. They have recorded over 100 hours of her talking, in wiretaps and interviews. They have expended a great deal of money and manpower on this case, and came up with very little. To save face, they need to go for the big kill.
Ultimately, the case will be won on the testimony of Gristina’s employees. Most of the girls have sought legal representation and some may be inclined to testify against their former boss if the prosecution can ensure that they won’t be prosecuted for prostitution.
We certainly won’t be hearing from Gristina’s customer base.
September 25, 2012: Today, New York’s notorious hooker booker pleads guilty — and only an hour after she told reporters that she would never plead guilty and that trial was a strong option.
Anna Gristina, who tabloids portrayed as the Westchester soccer mom by day, Upper East Side madam by night, vehemently maintained her innocence up until this afternoon, when she finally capitulated and pleaded guilty to a single count of promoting prostitution.
Gristina’s family was there to support her in the courtroom, including her two sons. One is an older teenager, but her youngest is only nine. The judge was none too pleased with that parenting decision and made sure she knew it.
The guilty plea earned her six months in jail, which will ultimately amount to time served. Since she already did four months at Rikers Island while she was trying to get her bail lowered, she probably will not return to jail.
The single count of promoting prostitution refers to the moment when she was caught by an undercover cop, after arranging for him to watch two young women engage in sex acts with each other. Gristina’s lawyers argued that since the undercover cop only watched and didn’t participate, the acts did not truly amount to prostitution.
The judge disagreed, but he did severely limit the prosecution’s case against Gristina. Faced with the job of trying to put her on trial with very little evidence, prosecutors made Gristina the best of all New York plea deals — the offer she couldn’t refuse.
Although NYPD got their girl in the end, it took a five-year-long investigation just to get her on this single charge. They have over 100 hours of wiretapped conversations and so much money and manpower sunk into this case that a single conviction with no significant jail time is not a big win for law enforcement.
One thing that Gristina will need to address is her citizenship. She is a British citizen and originally from the Scottish Highlands. She stands to be deported as a result of her guilty plea if the government chooses to initiate deportation proceedings against her. Generally, people are not deported for relatively minor offenses such as this one, but between the high-profile nature of this case and the law enforcement resources that have already been spent, she might be looking at more time in a courtroom just to be allowed stay in the country.