A New York judge refused to toss out charges against the alleged madam of a high-class Manhattan brothel catering to the city’s elite on Thursday, ordering her to stand trial later this year.
Prosecutors say British-born Anna Gristina led a double life as a suburban mum and the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar escort service for wealthy clients. She was arrested in February after a sting operation.
Gristina, who describes herself as a matchmaker, asked Judge Juan Merchan to dismiss the case on the grounds that the undercover police officer in the sting did not have intercourse, but only paid to watch two women become intimate.
Merchan rejected that and set an Oct. 15 trial start.
Gristina, 44, wore high heels, black trousers and a sheer white blouse to court. She did not speak during the hearing and afterward had to be helped by a burly guard and her lawyer to escape the crush of journalists.
Prosecutors say she peddled sex from a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the neighborhood called home by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many of the city’s most famous and wealthy residents.
The case has stirred speculation in New York over the identity of clients at the alleged brothel.
The city’s previous big prostitution scandal in 2008 led to the resignation of then state governor Eliot Spitzer after he was exposed as a client of call girls charging thousands of dollars a visit.
So far, Gristina has refused to name names. However, the wall of silence could crack at trial.
“We’re locked and loaded and ready for war,” Gristina’s lawyer, Norman Pattis, said on Thursday.
Gristina’s co-defendant, Jaynie Baker, has apparently cut a deal with prosecutors and could testify against her former friend. Gristina may also take the stand in her own defense.
“She may have to,” Pattis said.
The rumor mill is expected to heat up ahead of the trial. Already there are questions about hundreds of hours of tape recordings held by prosecutors, but not yet made public.
Outside the court, Pattis said the case was being blown out of proportion because the US is “crazy” and “schizophrenic” about sex.
“We call it a crime. We use it to sell things,” he said.
However, Merchan sought to cool things down, warning prosecutors against introducing evidence that was not relevant to the single charge of promoting prostitution.
“There is one count about one incident. That’s what this case is,” he said. “We’re not going to let this get out of hand.”
The sting operation that led to Gristina’s arrest was the culmination of a five-year operation, officials say. She was accused of making millions of dollars, with Baker acting as the booker for escorts, some of whom were allegedly underage girls.
Gristina allegedly claimed to enjoy close relations with law enforcement officers who she said would tip her off about any dangers.
She is now free on a US$100,000 bond after spending four months in the harsh Rikers Island jail, where she was held while facing an initial, huge US$2 million bail.
If found guilty, Gristina, who emigrated from Scotland as a teenager, could be jailed for up to seven years. She also faces deportation, Pattis said.