Judge orders trial for Manhattan 'madam'

16th August 2012, Comments 0 comments

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 mom and the mastermind of a multi-million-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 didn't have intercourse, but only paid to watch two women become intimate.

Merchan rejected that and set an October 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 afterwards 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 in 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 fevered speculation in New York over the identity of clients at the alleged brothel.

New York's previous big prostitution scandal in 2008 led to then state governor Eliot Spitzer resigning 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 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 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 courthouse, Pattis said the case was being blown out of proportion because America 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, who allegedly included underage girls.

Gristina allegedly also claimed to enjoy close relations with law enforcement officers who she said would tip her off about any dangers.

She is currently free on a $100,000 bond after spending four months in the harsh Rikers Island jail, where she was held while facing an initial, huge $2 million bail.

If found guilty, Gristina, who emigrated from Scotland a teenager, faces deportation, Pattis said.

But her husband Kelvin Gorr, who was also in court, told CNN that Gristina "was running a dating service.... Basically she has some very wealthy, powerful friends, and she knows a lot of beautiful women."

© 2012 AFP

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