Yet prostitution cases are common, and most are, in fact, sad, involving haggard, drug-addicted women, and desperate men looking for cheap substitutes for love in all the wrong places. Most of the “pros” either start out strung out on drugs or alcohol, or end up that way; it is a punishing life, selling passion, playing at intimacy with strangers, tap-dancing on the sometimes lethal line of desire.
Anna Gristina, the so-called “Soccer Mom Madam,” made international news not long ago. She was charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with running a multimillion-dollar escort service catering to the rich and famous. When prosecutors sought, and obtained, a $2 million bond to keep her behind bars pending trial, many folks were stunned. Why a bond fit for a killer?
A new book set to be released this month sheds some light on the back story to this unusual case. “Call Girl Confidential: An Escort’s Life as an Undercover Agent” has the tabloids and talk shows buzzing. It also has my phone ringing off the hook. I represented Ms. Gristina and got her set free after the New York appellate court reduced her bond.
Ms. Gristina was pulled off the street on the upper East Side and whisked to a secret location maintained by the Manhattan district attorney’s office before she had a chance to call a lawyer. Prosecutors and investigators grilled her for hours, offering her an opportunity to work with them, and presumably walk back out the door, if she would name names. She didn’t talk, and, therefore, didn’t walk.
I thought the power-play involving Ms. Gristina by Manhattan prosecutors was fairly bold. It turns out it was child’s play.
Rebecca Woodard, a thirty-something lost soul who worked her way through several high-end prostitution rings, was also a target of aggressive prosecutors. How aggressive were the lawmen? They “flipped” her, in the noir language of jaded lawmen, turning her into an undercover witness. If she gave them information, she wouldn’t be arrested.
Ms. Woodard is now telling all, and she wrote “Call Girl Confidential,” using the name Rebecca Kade, published by Gallery Books, an imprint of publishing giant Simon and Schuster, a work giving new meaning to the old phrase “undercover work.”
Question: Who is the most sophisticated pimp in New York City?
Answer: The Manhattan district attorney’s office.
According to Rebecca of the sullied sheets, the city’s top lawmen required her to continue to work as a prostitute, serving the likes of former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, who, she reports, liked to get a little rough with her, while she provided lawmen with information. Here’s the shocker: After she’d turn a trick, her new pimps would require her to turn the money she received, and she might charge as much as $25,000, over to them.
The district attorney’s office as pimp du jour?
Where’d the money from these assignations go?
The district attorney’s office isn’t saying. In fact, the word of the day from the city’s most prominent pimp is, apparently, “no comment.” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has every reason to be shame-faced. I wonder whether federal prosecutors will bring Mann Act charges against members of the office.
This most unusual of prostitution prosecutions was never really a vice case. The unit handling the investigation of Ms. Gristina was the public corruption team. Its target? Unnamed sources, either in the office of district attorney itself, or within the hierarchy of the New York City Police Department, who prosecutors believed were a little too cozy with the city’s elite escort services.
Where’d prosecutors get the idea that Ms. Gristina had friends in high places? Why, a taped conversation between Ms. Woodard/Kade and Ms. Gristina, while the city was turning tricks with its very own working girl. On the tape, Ms. Gristina is heard discussing information given her by friends in high places.
I’m willing to bet today that prosecutors no longer believe Ms. Gristina was wired into the upper echelons of Manhattan law enforcement. They kept her behind bars for months, hoping she’d break and name names. It never happened. I suspect that is because there never were friends in high places. My hunch is the prosecutors fell for a little bluster, some trash talking among folks who relied upon the manipulation of desire, telling folks what they wanted to believe, for a living.
It’s hard to know just when Ms. Woodard/Kade is telling the truth.
One claim she makes suggests she is, for the most part, reliable. In 2011, prosecutors pressed her to wire up and confront a financier who had once asked her to procure a child for illicit play. When Ms. Woodard ambushed the financier, he clammed up, saying nothing prosecutors could use.
In my discussions with the district attorney’s office involving Ms. Gristina, prosecutors were insistent that my client could help herself greatly by providing information about child-sex trafficking. We adamantly maintained at the time, and still maintain, that there was never any use of children in illicit acts. I always wondered why the prosecutors pressed that claim. Now I understand this was a hobby horse they were riding with Ms. Woodard/Kade.
The prosecution of Ms. Gristina remains a tawdry chapter in Manhattan’s recent history. Although Ms. Gristina pled guilty to a single count of promoting prostitution and was sentenced to time-served more than a year ago, one of her co-defendants, Jaynie Mae Baker, was sentenced only last month, a year later. And the accountant who allegedly moved money for Ms. Gristina was given a quiet slap on the wrist and sent home.
Odds are, Manhattan prosecutors are still playing at prostitution. The case of the “Soccer Mom Madam” is still open. Just who is the district attorney’s office trying today to slip between justice’s sheets?