NEW YORK — A lawyer for the accused madam of a multimillion-dollar brothel said Thursday he wants to explore the possibility of a plea deal, though he cautioned that he was only gauging options in a case enveloped in attention and innuendo.
Meanwhile, Anna Gristina remained behind bars as she changed lawyers and, with that, the unconventional contours of a plan for her now-prior attorney to put up his downtown Manhattan loft to secure her $2 million bond.
Gristina, 44, has been at the center of a New York media furor since news of the case broke last week, two weeks after her arrest and five years into an investigation by prosecutors who specialize in cases that involve allegations against police. Prosecutors say the Scotland-born suburban mother of four provided pricey prostitutes to well-heeled clients for 15 years and touted ties to law enforcement, saying her connections could tip her off if trouble loomed.
So far, only Gristina and Jaynie Baker, 30, a matchmaking recruiter accused of helping run the alleged prostitution ring, have been arrested; both have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have said their investigation is continuing.
Gristina's new lawyer, Gary Greenwald, told a court Thursday that he wanted to meet with prosecutors "with a view toward a disposition or resolving the matter."
While plea discussions are common, not all defense lawyers choose to mention publicly that they plan to engage in them, at least not until a trial nears.
Greenwald said later that he just wants to find out what kind of plea deal Gristina might be offered.
"You always ask, `What's the possibility of a plea?'" Greenwald said outside court. "It doesn't mean we're going to do a plea."
Prosecutors didn't immediately respond.
It's unclear how much either side might be willing to accommodate the other. Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan said during Thursday's hearing that if Gristina were convicted, there might be a good argument for giving her the maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Meanwhile, Gristina has signaled that she isn't eager to aid prosecutors' investigation. She told the New York Post in a jail interview last week that she'd "bite my tongue off before I'd tell them anything."
Echoing comments his client made to the newspaper, Greenwald said Thursday that authorities pressed Gristina for hours after her Feb. 22 arrest about whether she'd provided prostitutes to certain men, telling her that "if you cooperate, you can walk out of here."
Linehan said prosecutors wouldn't disclose the details of any discussions they had with Gristina.
Prosecutors in the police-corruption unit sometimes "start with the low-hanging fruit, and they work their way up," so Gristina's help – or lack of it – could be key to the direction of the investigation, said Peter E. Brill, a defense lawyer who has represented police officers in such cases. He's not involved in the case against Gristina.
One of Gristina's previous lawyers, Peter J. Gleason, told a judge earlier this week that he'd put up his $2.5 million downtown Manhattan loft for the bond. He also offered to have Gristina and her family move in with him, with her under house arrest and electronic monitoring. The family currently lives in Monroe, N.Y.
Prosecutors said the proposal raised ethical questions, and Thursday's hearing was intended to examine the issue. But Gleason said he was stepping down from representing Gristina, though he's still offering his apartment for her bail.
"I think it's the right thing to do," he said after court. The house arrest plan is off the table because the apartment would be too crowded, Greenwald said later.
State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said Gristina's newly hired lawyers, Greenwald and Elise L. Rucker, needed to complete official paperwork before he could consider the plan.
Prosecutors have called Gristina a flight risk. They say they believe she made millions, has money stashed away to flee and has shown a willingness to try to run from trouble, once going to Montreal for a time in 2008 when some other high-profile prostitution investigations were in the news, including the federal case that spurred then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's resignation. Spitzer was never charged but publicly identified as a client of a call-girl ring at the heart of that case.
Greenwald tried to persuade the judge to lower Gristina's bond. He called the Canada trip a "red herring," noting that she had a home there and wasn't facing charges at the time. He noted that Baker was released on $100,000 bond after turning herself in this week and that both women are facing only a single, low-level, non-violent felony charge.
"You put (bond) at $2 million, under the theory of what?" he asked Merchan.
The judge acknowledged that the bond was "fairly high" for a person who has never been arrested before. But he said he didn't see any cause so far to reduce it.
Greenwald and Rucker replaced a court-appointed lawyer, Richard Siracusa. Gleason was working for free and said Gristina is broke.
Greenwald said her relatives and friends were paying his fees.
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