Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., might be one of those understated legal geniuses who see things in life’s tawdry fact patterns the rest of us miss. Or maybe he’s just the son of a famous man, former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who rode his daddy’s coattails all the way into a job that’s just too big for his meager talents. Gauging by his office’s performance in the Anna Gristina case, I am not checking the genius box when it comes time to cast a ballot for Vance.
Ms. Gristina was charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office earlier this year with promoting prostitution. At her arraignment, prosecutors from Vance’s office stood in the well of Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom and made a star of Ms. Gristina: she has made millions of dollars as a high-class, high-end prostitute to the wealthy in Manhattan; she has friends in high places, and is close to those who hold the reins of power in the city; she’s operated a brothel out of an Upper East Side apartment. Vance’s minion’s transformed Ms. Gristina into a prep schooler’s wet dream; she was everything money could buy.
So Vance prosecuted the fantasy.
Ms. Gristina was picked up off a Manhattan Street and held incommunicado by lawmen in the DA’s public corruption unit. If she’d play ball with Vance, things might go easy for her. The cheap suits promised her leniency if she’d but give them a name or two. Ms. Gristina gave nothing, so she was locked up.
She was arrested months after an undercover cop took $2,000 of taxpayer’s money to arrange for a threesome with two young women. The man watched the women engage in cunnilingus, secretly recording them, and then left -- a little justice interruptus.
Ms. Gristina was held on a $2 million bond at Riker’s Island for more than four months, until the New York Appellate Court found the bond obscene and slapped at Vance’s office in a humiliating rebuke.
Public corruption prosecutors dangled the prospect of leniency before Ms. Gristina throughout the proceedings. Give us a name or two, they’d suggest, and this might be but a bad dream. Throughout the proceedings, it became apparent that the prostitution prosecution was but a pretext for an investigation of Vance’s preoccupation with corruption in his own office, or in the police department, or in the judiciary.
I represented Ms. Gristina throughout most of the proceedings. I never once was given access to any of the evidence Vance’s office claims support the extravagant claims raised by prosecutors in open court. Ms. Gristina’s millions? A fantasy, I suspect. Her decade’s long history of marketing to the lust of the leisure class? Not once did the prosecution produce a document, a name, anything, to substantiate its claim – it was almost as though Vance was afraid to offend the big money boys. Ms. Gristina’s connection to the power elite? Another dead end.
In the end, the case came down to a two-bit prosecution made possible by a sting operation, a case in which a lawman played the role of John, wired up, and produced audiotapes and videotapes of a horny guy looking to "be with" not one girl, but two. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars did Manhattan spend on this dead-end investigation?
Ms. Gristina pled guilty to a low-level felony. She promoted prostitution. She was sentenced to time served and walked out of the courthouse doors a free woman.
Before she walked out the courthouse door, Vance’s office had already prepared a written statement, declaring victory. Vance’s public relations mongrel growled that there is nothing glamorous about prostitution. Ms. Gristina rented women’s bodies. She is nothing more than a pimp.
Does Vance really think he won this case? Who’s the real pimp here? He spent a fortune hounding Ms. Gristina and got nothing other than what he paid, with tax dollars, to procure – a live peep show for a cop wearing a wire.
The District Attorney is elected in Manhattan. Just why anyone would vote for Cy Vance, Jr., is a mystery. In one case after another his office promises the world, and delivers a dud. Can the city really afford to nourish this man’s fantasy life?
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.