Anna Gristina, a New York woman charged with running a brothel that prosecutors said catered to high-net-worth clients, will continue to have a court-provided lawyer and asked to have a second lawyer’s $2.5 million apartment used to secure bail.
Justice Juan Merchan of state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled today that Gristina can have free legal counsel after Peter Gleason, a lawyer who has also been advising her, said she didn’t have “two nickels to rub together.” The judge said if she is found to have financial resources she will have to repay taxpayers.
Gleason offered to use his Tribeca apartment to guarantee her appearance for trial. She and her family would stay with him, and she has agreed to wear an ankle bracelet, he said. Gristina, the mother of four, has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors objected, and Merchan scheduled a March 15 hearing to determine whether such an arrangement would be ethical.
“I don’t believe the law is crystal clear on this matter,” the judge said.
Gleason, who said he is a former police officer, said in an interview outside the courthouse that his apartment is worth about $2.5 million.
In court he asked that Gristina’s bail of $1 million in cash or a $2 million bond be cut, without specifying an amount.
The bail for Sydney Biddle Barrows, the “Mayflower Madam,” charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office in the 1980s, was $7,500, Gleason said.
It’s wrong to compare this case to that of the Mayflower Madam or other prostitution cases for setting bail, Merchan said. He cited prosecutors’ allegations that “there are people in law enforcement that may be assisting her” and that in 2008, when she heard of an investigation, she fled the country.
Gristina, a British subject, is a legal permanent resident of the U.S.
The investigation included “at least one eyewitness account” of a sexual encounter arranged by her in which minors were involved, Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan told Merchan Feb. 23, a day after her arrest, according to a court transcript.
Gleason asked the judge if he could interview public defenders and pick one Gristina might prefer to her current court-appointed lawyer, Richard Siracusa. Merchan said he couldn’t, but a new defender could be appointed later if Gristina gave reason. Gristina agreed to be represented by Siracusa for the time being, Gleason said.
Gristina is an “intelligent, stoic, strong-willed person with sound ideas about who she wants to represent her,” Gleason said. Accusations that she has been “peddling underage girls” have heightened her concerns, he said. Gleason asked to read into the record an e-mail exchange with Siracusa, which was denied.
The name of a second defendant is obscured in the indictment. Gristina has business contacts worldwide, made millions of dollars and counts “many” affluent people as friends and clients, prosecutors said, according to the transcript.
At the time of her arrest, Gristina was in the office of “a Morgan Stanley (MS) banker who she counts as a close friend,” Linehan said. The Morgan Stanley employee is David Spencer Walker, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Purpose of Meeting
Gristina was at Walker’s office “for a meeting in which she was trying to solicit money to fund what we believe is another illicit business venture on the Internet that involves matching up male clients with female prostitutes,” said Linehan, of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s official corruption unit.
Prosecutors haven’t accused Walker of wrongdoing or identified him publicly. He works for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the firm’s retail brokerage, said the person, who didn’t want to be identified because Walker wasn’t named in the case.
Walker has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, Jim Wiggins, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, said previously.
The case is People v. Gristina, 12-00751, New York State Supreme Court (338265L), New York County (Manhattan).
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