'Millionaire Madam' Arrested in Five-Year Public Corruption Investigation
By DNAinfo Staff on March 5, 2012 4:58pm |
By Shayna Jacobs and Murray Weiss
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A mother of four, who made millions running an Upper East Side brothel, was sent to Rikers Island jail on a $2 million bond after a five-year investigation by the DA's public corruption unit, according to stunning court documents obtained by DNAinfo.com.
Anna Gristina, 44, was indicted on Feb. 22 by a Manhattan grand jury on a single charge of promoting prostitution and was arrested while meeting with a Morgan Stanley banker who she'd been trying to convince to help her expand her empire online, according to court documents. On Tuesday, police were searching for a woman believed to be Gristina's associate — Jaynie Mae Baker, 30, a recruiter for a high-end matchmaking service VIP Life, sources told DNAinfo. Prosecutors have not revealed what role, if any, they think Baker played in the ring.
Gristina, who prosecutors claim to have on tape admitting she made millions in 15 years as a madam, was hit with the hefty bail after the DA's office claimed that her network of wealthy male clients and associates, combined with a home in Canada and her British passport, made her a flight risk.
Gristina's lawyers asked for reduced bail Tuesday, but a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice kept it at a $2 million bond over $1 million cash. Gristina appeared anxious and upset as she sat handcuffed throughout the brief court conference, moving her head to the side to try to block photos by news photographers.
At her Feb. 23 arraignment in front of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, prosecutors said the public corruption unit had nearly a hundred hours of audio and video surveillance that showed Gristina had been providing prostitutes — including some who were underage — to a slew of powerful men out of an apartment on East 78th Street, according to a transcript.
Recordings also showed she was prepared to flee, Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan said at Tuesday's bail hearing.
"Nothing has changed since she was arraigned two weeks ago," Linehan said. "The case remains strong as it was when we first arraigned her."
Prosecutors said the alleged madam had even bragged during the Eliot Spitzer investigation that she had a network of law enforcement sources poised to tip her off if her business was being watched, according to the documents.
The accusations stunned neighbors of the Upper East Side building where the petite, blond suspect allegedly carried on her dealings.
"She looked like a normal mom," said one local resident, who did not want to be identified. He said he has known Gristina for 12 years, and described her as very private about her personal life and what she did for a living.
Attractive women could be seen coming and going from the building — sometimes several per month — for the past few years, but the neighbor chalked it up to a sublet for college kids.
"It's shocking," said a woman who lives in the building. "I had no idea."
The two-story farmhouse in Monroe which Gristina gave authorities as her residence had children's toys and animal feed strewn in the yard on Tuesday morning. There was a small kids' wading pool, a trampoline and the beginnings of a treehouse. There were some empty enclosures for animals, a tractor and a careworn American flag on the garage.
Gristina's arrest followed an in-depth surveillance by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Official Corruption Unit that specializes in investigating NYPD officers and uniformed public servants involved in criminal conduct. She was charged along with a co-conspirator, whose name has been redacted from court records and who was not present at the arraignment.
It was not immediately clear if the DA was eyeing charges against police or other officials.
The public corruption unit was so afraid that Gristina would flee that police swooped in and arrested her when she was in a business meeting with a Morgan Stanley banker, whom prosecutors described as a "close friend," the court records show.
Sources said that she had been expecting to meet with the banker and two other businessmen when she was surprised by investigators, who arrested her.
Prosecutors believe she was trying to get the unnamed banker to invest in an online start-up that would match prostitutes with wealthy men.
Law enforcement sources said Gristina, described in Department of Correction records as petite, blond and green eyed, ran her illicit enterprise from the East 78th Street building.
Other sources said the apartment was a rent-controlled one-bedroom with a small kitchen where Gristina stayed occasionally.
During the investigation, Gristina was recorded discussing how her law enforcement contacts were "poised to help her out, to let her know if there is trouble on the front that she needs to be concerned about, particularly back during the Eliot Spitzer investigation," Linehan said at her arraignment.
She was also heard bragging about a high-powered "lawyer friend" whom prosecutors claim helped her launder money, and owned the building where she allegedly ran her brothel.
"He’s basically locked money away for her should this ever happen so she will have money when she comes out of it," Linehan said, according to the transcript.
Linehan also said Gristina, a mother of four who told the court she lives in Monroe, in Orange County, has some very influential people in her Rolodex.
"She has business contacts worldwide," he said, adding that Gristina "claimed to have made millions over the 15 or so years, she has been in business as a madam."
"She counts many high wealths [sic] among her friends and clients," he added, according to the transcript.
Gristina and her missing co-defendant are charged with promoting prostitution in the third degree for allegedly setting up meetings between prostitutes and clients in July 2011.
Gristina has been jailed at Rikers since Feb. 23. Her assets were frozen, and she was assigned a court-appointed attorney Richard Siracusa. Lawyer Peter Gleason, who told the judge he knows Gristina's family, joined her team.
"She can't go anywhere," Siracusa told the judge during the hearing.
"She is willing to wear an ankle bracelet — anything to get back to her poor kids," he said, adding that "she has a home for rescued animals as part of her estate."
The address Gristina gave officials is a house on a farm in Monroe, where she fostered feral pigs, friends said.
But Linehan disputed that she needed to be around for her four children.
"I believe two or three of those children are actually adult children," he said, explaining that her husband was believed to be living in her home taking care of the youngest child.
Lawyer Peter Gleason, who said he took Anna Gristina's case on pro bono because he's a friend of the family, denied that she was affiliated with anything untoward, particularly if it involved minors.
Private investigator Vincent Parco, who was also present at the court hearing, said Gristina was working on a legitimate start-up dating website. He said he had been tapped to be a consultant for the company, checking backgrounds on the site's clients.
"She was hiring me to do the legal verification of all he people on the website. It's more in depth and [more] highly sophisticated than Match.com," Parco said.
Trevor Kapp, Nicholas Rizzi, Ben Fractenberg and Sonja Sharp contributed reporting.