Anna Gristina is, perhaps, the most powerful woman in the United States just now. And that explains why she is sitting in Rikers Island on a $2 million bond. It is almost as if the monied class, the folks who know how to manipulate the secret levers of power, are afraid of what she will do if she is set free.
Gristina is the so-called "Soccer Mom Madam." She was arrested earlier this year in Manhattan and charged with one count – one, mind you, of a Class D felony of promoting prostitution. The 44-year-old mother of four has no criminal record. The charge carries a maximum of two to seven years in prison. Most first-time offenders resolve a case of this sort with a plea and probation.
But most folks charged with promoting prostitution are not Anna Gristina.
You see, she is rumored to be madam to the power elite. Her black book, the list of who’s been naughty, reportedly contained such names as former presidential candidate John Edwards. If you listen to the gossip, Gristina’s been brokering lust to tycoons for many years, amassing a fortune believed to be in the millions of dollars.
For the past five years, New York law enforcement has been watching Gristina. They’ve listened to her telephone calls. They’ve followed her. They’ve tried to learn as much as they could about this illusive queen of desire. Five years is a long time. One would have thought they’d have an airtight case with scores of witnesses ready to proceed against a woman whose only real crime seems to be a little too much candor about sex.
Gristina has been charged with one count of promoting prostitution. One. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has thus far refused to share much of the evidence it has gathered against the madam. Her lawyer has pressed, as have the lawyers for other defendants. But the D.A. isn’t budging. She’s been tried, maligned and crucified in the press, but has yet to see the evidence amassed against her.
Let me see if I get this straight. George Zimmerman shoots a kid in cold blood, killing him, and then gets a $150,000 bond. Ivan Ramos, a fellow accused of raping, sodomizing and robbing a young woman in Greenwich Village, is released on a $300,000 bond. Gristina, who killed no one, engaged in no act of violence, and was, if the allegations are true, guilty only of discretion is treated as though she were public enemy number one. What gives?
I say it is all about her black book.
Manhattan is a tiny island with a big shadow. It attracts titans of finance, the politically powerful, and those who live by burnishing just the right image. Gristina’s clientele weren’t the likes of Joe Six Pack stopping for a quickie on the stoop of a Brooklyn walk-up. A guy like John Edwards, or, for that matter, Eliot Spitzer, paid serious money for pleasures they expected to be kept secret. What if Gristina’s black book reads like a "Who’s Who" among Manhattan’s elite? Imagine the pressure being brought to bear on the District Attorney to make sure this case is handled in just the right way.
Gristina is a native of Scotland, so the District Attorney can argue with a straight face that she is a flight risk. But is a happily married mother of four really going to pick up and run from a charge to which she could most likely plead in exchange for probation? I doubt it. If the D.A. is so worried about flight, grab her passport and send her home to await trial.
Did I say trial? There’s the rub.
If the case is to be tried, the District Attorney will be required to disclose evidence. Hence, the defense, and presumably the world, will get to listen to the hours upon hours of audio recordings of Gristina allegedly arranging assignations for the leisure class. The matrimonial bar in greater Manhattan is no doubt chomping at the bit awaiting the mayhem that will ensue; palpitations on Wall Street reflect less a concern for bumps in the market, than with bumping and grinding of a more primeval sort.
So rough justice in the Gristina case looks something like this: The D.A. insists on a high bond for Gristina. Everyday she sits in Rikers Island is time-served toward an eventual sentence. The prosecution can crow about getting tough on crime, although why anyone cares about high-end prostitution is a mystery in a city saturated with sexuality. And if disclosure of evidence is put off as long as possible, no one gets hurt: The big daddies who paid for play can breathe easy. Their names will be kept out of the press. Their secrets will remain secure. So long as that black book doesn’t surface, everyone gets what they want.
My prediction? Come trial, New York will mumble something about the interests of justice having already been served. Gristina will have spent months behind bars at this point. Months no other defendant charged with a similar crime would have served. The case will be dropped, and Gristina will be offered her freedom. All she will have to do is agree to not to sue anyone for civil damages for false arrest. Suppose she calls the D.A.’s bluff and insists on trial? Then the D.A. folds.
The pity of it all is that the courts are playing along with this farce. It is enough to make you wonder what kind of whispering is going on behind closed doors. Whose names are in that book? How far will they go to make sure their secrets are kept? I’ll bet if that book surfaced today bond would be dropped. The real issue isn’t whether Gristina will flee; the real issue is whether her black book will fall into the wrong hands.
I’m telling you, Anna Gristina might just be the most powerful woman in the United States. Hence, the extraordinary measures to make sure she is kept silent and out of view. I steal a line from Denis Hamill of the New York Daily News: Has Lady Justice become a streetwalker?