MANHATTAN — A panel of state appeals court judges grilled prosecutors Thursday during a brief but fiery hearing to consider whether the $2 million bail set for alleged "Millionaire Madam" Anna Gristina is too high.
What's the problem with Gristina simply surrendering her passport and wearing an ankle bracelet "so she can be home with her 9-year-old son?" Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels asked Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan.
Justice James Catterson quickly added to the line of questioning, asking why an ankle bracelet was approved for the likes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund, and homemaking mogul Martha Stewart, but not for Gristina.
Linehan argued that Gristina's bail was justified because the "risk of flight in this case is not theoretical."
Catterson, however, said he was "appalled" with how prosecutors characterized flight risk as "sufficient basis for denying bail altogether," in their arguments.
Gristina's lawyer, Norman Pattis, got off a bit easier.
He contended that the bail was "unprecedented" — Gristina was charged with a single count of promoting prostitution. Pattis argued that the exorbitant bail was being used as a "tool of interrogation" and as an "inducement to cooperate" with authorities — prosecutors have said Gristina is central to an ongoing investigation into an alleged $15 million high-price escort service.
The soccer mom, who has been cooling her heels on Rikers Island since her Feb. 23 arrest, has tried four times to have her bail reduced. But each time, the judge rejected her legal team's arguments.
Prosecutors have argued that Gristina, a Scottish national who has a home in Canada and a British passport, which she has since surrendered, is a flight risk. She was allegedly caught on wiretap bragging about her plans to flee the country in case authorities caught on to her scheme, prosecutors said.
On June 1, her new lawyer, Connecticut legal eagle Norman Pattis, sent a letter to Justice Juan Merchan arguing that his client needed to be released in order to care for her 9-year-old son, who was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur.
According to the note, Gristina was "distraught and despondent over her inability to provide care and comfort to her son in this stressful period."
While the note said that "the overwhelming majority of children who so suffer recover without permanent injury," the boy was set undergo further testing.
Gristina, who faces a single charge of promoting prostitution, has had nine separate defense attorneys represent her since her case began.
Pattis, a high-profile defense attorney, replaced Gary Greenwald, who Gristina dumped because he tried to negotiate a plea, sources said.
Lawyer Peter Gleason was also temporarily on Gristina's legal team, and offered to represent her pro bono and to put up his $2.5 million Tribeca condo as collateral.
The accused madam's family set up a website in April to raise funds for Gristina's bail.
The site, which features Gristina posing in pictures with two of her children, as well as a photo of her pet pigs, says she was being held in solitary confinement under difficult conditions.
"Please help us fight this injustice," the site said. "This insult to the American way of life."
Her alleged accomplice, Jaynie Mae Baker, meanwhile, is free on $100,000 bail. Baker, who is also facing a single charge of promoting prostitution, allegedly worked as a recruiter for the Manhattan matchmaking service.
According to officials, Gristina ran a multi-million dollar prostitution ring out of an apartment on East 78th Street for 15 years, supplying prostitutes, including some who were allegedly underage, for a bevy of powerful men.
She allegedly bragged that she was connected to law enforcement officials who would tip her off if she came under investigation or if her business interests were being watched.
Gristina shares a farm in upstate Monroe, N.Y., with her husband, Kelvin Gorr, and her children.
There, Gristina raised several pigs and was very involved in the pig rescue effort.
It's not clear when the appeals court will make its decision.