By Murray Weiss, DNAinfo Columnist / Criminal Justice Editor
NEW YORK CITY — A multi-millionaire New York power player who was set up with a woman by “Millionaire Madam” Anna Gristina is speaking out about the anguish and fear that's been roiling since Gristina threatened to unmask him and others by selling her story to the press.
The mogul — one of scores of men, from Wall Street professionals and lawyers to sports and entertainment bigwigs and members of the British Parliament who Gristina has claimed to have ties to — offered a rare glimpse of how she used leverage and dropped names to gain a level of access that earned her the trust of the city's VIPs.
His account is the first to show what it's like to live with the threat of being dragged through the mud by Gristina since she was arrested in February for running a lucrative call-girl operation in Manhattan.
Initially, Gristina vowed never to reveal names from her so-called “black book,” despite what she called incredible pressure from prosecutors to do so.
She spent four months in prison and was released to home confinement, despite having no prior criminal record, because of what she called retaliation from prosecutors to hand over the names of these powerful men.
However, since Gristina pleaded guilty to a single prostitution count in September, she has turned up the heat on her clients by hinting that she might be willing to out power brokers, sports stars or celebrities on an upcoming appearance on the Dr. Phil show and in a potential tell-all book.
“I don’t understand why she is sort of offering people up,” the 50-something mogul revealed for the first time in an exclusive interview with DNAinfo.com New York's “On The Inside.”
“It has been an uncomfortable period for me, and I am sure for others, since all this began,” noted the VIP, who agreed to tell his story on the condition that his name and profession not be used.
"I don’t know what she is going to say. I can’t read her mind... I think she feels she needs leverage, and it’s a form of currency when you have something that is potentially sexy and salacious and worthy of a lot of curiosity. That may be the card she has to play,” he continued.
“But I can't figure out if she wants to sell books, rights to books, or get on talk shows. And I don’t know if she wants to see her name in the papers. I can’t know how she is psychologically wired. Maybe she likes the attention.
“I see myself as collateral damage if she goes through with this," he added.
The man said that in the seven months since Gristina’s name surfaced, he has prepared himself mentally to deal with the fallout with his family, friends and business associates if his name goes public.
“If it goes one way and she drops my name, there are relationships in my life that I will have to talk with,” said the high-powered client.
“If it goes the other way, and she does not name names, it is still a life lesson for me,” he continued. “Not to be cliché, but I will not be open and trusting of someone who presents themselves one way and are not that way at all. It was bad judgment.”
He said it all started about a year ago when he was sitting in his office and received an email from a woman he had never met before — Anna Gristina.
Gristina wrote that she was given his email address from one of his friends. She said she ran a dating service and added that his friend thought Gristina knew a woman he might like to meet.
“A lot of people try to set me up. It was just either drinks or dinner, and drinks turned into dinner,” he said.
He called Gristina’s recommendation — a 5-feet-7 beauty in her 30s — and they agreed to meet for dinner at a posh Upper East Side hotel.
“She was very nicely dressed, very upscale, but casual, not in a showy, jazzy way,” he said of the woman, who told him she worked as a decorator. “She was sociable, attractive, intelligent and interesting."
They hit it off, and after dinner, he dropped her off at her home and they agreed to see each other again. It was the start of what he described as a “fling.”
“I am a single man. I date a number of people. This woman and I literally went out three of four times,” he said.
The mega-millionaire, who travels a great deal, said he once paid for the woman's flight to see her family, and added that he helped her pay her rent.
But he denied that he ever paid her for sex or lavished her with any other goods.
“No gifts, none of that sort of thing,” he said.
He added that things ended amicably between them, after he told her he was not looking for “a permanent situation.”
The big shot met Gristina only once — and it was for just 15 seconds — by chance at a restaurant, while he was dating the woman she'd connected him to. As he was leaving, someone at another table having a business meeting called him over to meet Gristina.
“I assumed she wanted to meet me,” he recalled, saying he had never seen her before the chance encounter. They exchanged pleasantries, shook hands and that “was the extent of it.”
He did not realize the significance of the meeting until after he stopped seeing the woman and learned that Gristina had been swept up in the Manhattan District Attorney's anti-corruption sting, a story broken by DNAinfo.com New York.
"I was very surprised to read the whole situation. I just found it shocking," he said. “It has been an uncomfortable period for me, and I am sure to others, since all this began.
“I was never aware that [Gristina] was involved in what she was accused of,” he explained, adding he felt badly for the woman he had been seeing. “She just did not seem like someone who would be involved in that sort of thing."
When Gristina's case dwindled to a single charge of promoting prostitution, to which she pleaded guilty in September and was released on time served, the kingpin said he thought the torture was over.
“I thought that would be the end of the book,” he said. But when she started talking about dropping names "that suddenly became the epilogue.”
He said he has no idea whether the limbo will last for many years to come, or whether it will come crashing down without a moment's notice.
What he does know is how uneasy all of this has made him feel, and that he will confront the blowback if it comes.
“I am uncomfortable — no doubt,” he said, “But I am not the kind of person to live in fear of things that I can’t control. And I don’t want to be preoccupied with this.”