NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Anna Gristina, a suburban mom accused of running a multi-million dollar high-end prostitution ring, was arraigned Tuesday morning in Manhattan.
Gristina, a mother of four who resides in Monroe, NY, is accused of running a brothel out of an Upper East Side building on East 78th Street with help from police.
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“What she’s admitted to is being decent, kind, loving mother of four children who she’s been ripped away from during this proceeding,” defense attorney Peter Gleason said outside the courthouse.
According to the prosecutor, “there are certain high wealth individuals, friends and business associates who have an interest in not having this case move forward and would help her flee.”
Prosecutors say the 44-year-old has been working as a high-class madam for more than 15 years, amassing millions of dollars and dozens of high-profile contacts around the world in the process.
Tuesday morning, the judge sent Gristina back to Rikers Island on $2 million bond, agreeing with prosecutors who said she was a significant flight risk with her wealthy friends.
But defense attorneys argued that Gristina is not a heinous criminal. He stated that with only one charge in the indictment of promoting prostitution in the third degree, the judge’s decision was excessive.
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In the courtroom, prosecutors said that over the years she’s relied on several law enforcement sources to tip her off when investigators were getting close. She even allegedly fled to Montreal around 2008.
Investigators say they conducted five years worth of surveillance where they saw women they identified as prostitutes coming in and out of Gristina’s building, some of which were allegedly minors.
“Very well-dressed gentlemen, women I think of European background, it looked like, that’s how it appeared to me,” said neighbor Marty Garrett.
But Gleason denies the allegations that minors were involved, citing his investigator’s report.
“He’s giving me every indication that there are no underage girls involved,” he said.
Gleason says Gristina admits to nothing but says it’s hypocritical that she’s been charged, but not her alleged clients.
“To speak about the defendant is to speak about an individual who is a caring loving mother. But the only problem is, she’s a woman and not a man,” he said.
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Gristina was indicted in late February and was nabbed by law enforcement while meeting with a potential investor. Prosecutors say they believe she may have been trying to get a banker to invest in an online start-up that would match prostitutes with wealthy men.
“It’s disgusting, really disgusting for the kids around here,” one man said. “And it’s a nice neighborhood, really nice.”
EXTRA: Read The Full Indictment
Prosecutors say Gristina thought she was in the clear and say they have recordings of her 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.”
Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in March 2008 after reports surfaced that he patronized a prostitution service called Emperors Club VIP.
Manhattan madam Kristin Davis admitted to running a prostitution service. Davis now says she shared a booker with Gristina.
Gristina pleaded not guilty in February.
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