Scotswoman in court over New York prostitution ring

A SCOTTISH woman accused of masterminding a New York prostitution ring could use a network of “high-wealth” friends and clients to help her flee the country, a court has heard.

Anna Gristina appeared before a judge in Lower Manhattan yesterday charged with pocketing millions of dollars in cash as the madam of a high-end call-girl service.

The 44-year-old mother of four was told she was a “significant” flight risk, and was ordered to put down a $2 million (£1.27m) insurance surety or $1m (£636,000) in cash to be released from prison on bond.

Her lawyer later indicated that the defendant could not meet the bail requirements.

Petite, with blonde bobbed hair, the alleged madam appeared in court with her hands cuffed behind her back.

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She spoke only to her defence counsel during the brief session at Manhattan Supreme Court.

According to the charge sheet, the defendant knowingly profited from “managing, supervising, controlling and owning, either alone or in association with others, a prostitution business”.

The enterprise employed the services of at least two call-girls, prosecutors say.

Gristina, who is thought to have lived in Edinburgh and the Highlands before moving to the US, was arrested on 23 February at an office on Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

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Prosecutors claim that the alleged New York madam operated a prostitution service for about 15 years.

Many of her clients would meet call-girls at an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, it is alleged.

Prosecutors say the defendant believed she was cushioned from the law by her links to the city’s police force.

At the time of a scandal involving former New York governor Eliot Spitzer – who resigned in 2008 after being exposed in an unrelated vice ring – Gristina is alleged to have bragged of having “connections in the law enforcement” who would tip her off, assistant district attorney Charles Linehan has said.

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In court yesterday, Mr Linehan said that at the time of the Spitzer investigation, the defendant left New York for Montreal to avoid unwanted scrutiny.

He told the court there remained a “significant risk” of her fleeing the country to avoid a trial.

The prosecutor explained that Gristina had a number of “high-wealth friends and business associates”.

He said: “Her clients, we believe, have an interest in having this case not go forward and are in a position to help her flee the jurisdiction.”

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Mr Linehan added: “We believe and have evidence to support that she has money squirreled away in the event of an event like this one happening.”

Gristina’s arrest followed a five-year investigation led by a specialist crime unit that looks into cases against members of the New York Police Department and other officers.

A co-defendant in the case has yet to be arrested and has not been identified.

Gristina was picked up by the authorities last month during a meeting with a banker friend of hers in an office of investment firm Morgan Stanley.

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Prosecutors allege she was trying to raise funds for an online prostitution business.

But outside Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday, a lawyer for the defendant said she was setting up a dating website.

Earlier, Gristina’s attorney Richard Siracusa argued that the bail figure was “far in excess of what she has been charged with”.

He said: “She has no record, she has a family, she has four children, she lives upstate and has a home for rescued animals.

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“For someone to come into court on one count of committing prostitution, it is far in excess of what is necessary to keep her in the country or have her come back to court.”

He added that the bail puts her in the same category as “heinous criminals”, which had consequences for her prison life.

“It is not an easy existence,” he added in reference to Gristina’s current stay at New York’s Riker Island jail.

Judge Jean Merchan noted Mr Siracusa’s concerns, but refused to lower the bond.

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Gristina’s next appearance in court is expected to be on 3 May. If convicted, she faces up to seven years in prison.