British woman Scot Anna Gristina 'ran US vice ring'

 

A British-born woman has been accused of running a multi-million pound prostitution ring in New York.

But lawyers for Scot Anna Gristina say she is merely a suburban mother who was building an online dating service.

Prosecutors insisted in court Gristina., who has been jailed after being unable to stand bail, was an arrogant, wealthy madam who boasted of ties to law enforcement and stashed cash to flee if authorities tried to close in on her.

"A caring mother of four has been slapped with a $2 million bond" one of her lawyers, Peter Gleason, said after a judge refused to lower the bail.

Bespectacled, 44-year-old Gristina looked glum and tried to turn away from the news cameras in court for her brief appearance. She was arrested on February 22, but news of the case broke only on Monday. She has pleaded not guilty.

A legal US resident, originally from the Highlands, Gristina maintains a home for rescued animals, said another of her lawyers, Richard Siracusa. She has never been in legal trouble before and has surrendered her passport, he said, but has a bail that would denote "a heinous criminal."

But state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said "the risk of flight seems significant" in Gristina's case.

Prosecutors say Gristina was heard during a five-year investigation saying she had made millions of dollars over about 15 years of arranging trysts. She has wealthy clients and friends who "have an interest in not having this case go forward" and could help her run, they said. She also was heard saying she would flee if she heard trouble was coming, and evidence suggests she has money set aside for just that purpose, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan told the judge.

Gristina "essentially assured anyone who asked that she has connections in law enforcement who will let her know if anything is going to come down, in terms of a criminal indictment," he said.

When arrested in Manhattan last month, she was with a friend and Morgan Stanley banker, having been to his office for a meeting to try to raise money to finance what prosecutors believe may be an online prostitution business. The investment bank declined to comment.

But Mr Gleason said Gristina was setting up a legal dating business, hoping to rival online titan Match.com. Private investigator Vincent Parco said Gristina had hired him because she wanted to make sure potential members did not have criminal backgrounds.

"She has some legitimate business interests ... nothing to do with the sex trade," he said.

According to prosecutors, Gristina often used an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side as a setting for the sexual encounters she arranged, some of them involving minors. But Mr Gleason said the defence investigation had found no sign that underage girls were enmeshed in any of the alleged activities.

He called the case a sign of "hypocrisy" in how society treats women accused of involvement in prostitution, compared to alleged male patrons.

Prosecutors have said they believe the building belongs to a lawyer who helped Gristina set up her business and launder money.

Gristina lives on a 12-acre property in Monroe, about 50 miles from New York.

Her husband, Kelvin Gorr, told the Daily News of New York that he was "heartbroken" about the case.

"We are just a great family ... and my wife means everything to me," Mr Gorr, who has been married to Gristina for 10 years, said.

Gristina is due back in court May 3. If convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.

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