In an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer that aired Thursday on TODAY, the suburban mother accused of running a multimillion-dollar escort service in Manhattan said that her arrest is “decimating’’ her family and that she was “shaking with terror” when she was taken into custody.
Anna Gristina, a mother of four who has been dubbed the “Soccer Mom Madam,’’ was charged in February with promoting prostitution after a five-year investigation alleged she had been running a prostitution ring from an Upper East Side apartment for a decade. She is currently in jail, and on Tuesday an appeals court cut her bail from $2 million to a $250,000 bond or $100,000 in cash.
“I think for me I have it easy,’’ she told Lauer in a sit-down interview at Rikers Island with her attorney. “I think it's my family who suffer, because I'm able to at least hide in here from it all. My children, they get followed by the press. My husband almost got run off the road yesterday by press.
“It's caused my son to come out of school at one point. It's caused my daughter to suffer from anxiety and she's seeing a doctor. It's just decimating my family.’’
Her son, Nicholas, 9, came to visit her after she had been incarcerated for three months.
“He cried the whole time and begged to stay with me,’’ a tearful Gristina said.
Gristina maintains that her matchmaking service was legal. She saw the show “The Millionaire Matchmaker’’ on Bravo and said a friend suggested she create something similar. Gristina’s idea was to create a high-end “sugar daddy’’ matchmaking service for wealthy men who are married — like a married version of Match.com, she said.
When asked whether the service accommodated married men looking for sexual partners, Gristina’s lawyer, Norm Pattis, intervened.
“I think we’ve answered that question,’’ he said. “Very much like Match.com.’’
Pattis also interjected when Lauer asked Gristina if she provided matchmaking services of any kind for married men or if she has ever been involved in a legitimate, legal dating service.
“Our response would be you sound like the Manhattan district attorney's office,’’ Pattis told Lauer. “Given the state's allegations in this case, and its belief that she was not (operating a legal service), we'd be fools to answer your question.’’
Gristina claimed that the site of the alleged ring is a small residential apartment that her family kept because of its affordable price and that there was no business run out of it.
Gristina also spoke about the day on which she was arrested, claiming that she was never read her rights and the police never properly identified themselves. She also claims to have been interrogated in the police car and said she was taken to a secret location.
Gristina said she was asked by police if she knew why she had been arrested and if she knew the police were from a special corruption unit. She asked for a lawyer and said she was told she didn’t need one.
“I asked for an attorney, and they cuffed me, and I thought I was being abducted because they didn't look like police,’’ she said. “I screamed on the street for people to please call 911 because I had no idea. You know, I’m walking down the street, and I’m being pulled off the street.’’
“I said, ‘I think I need a lawyer,’ ’’ she told Lauer. “I said, ‘I don’t understand why I'm here.’ It went from that to, ‘You don't need a lawyer. It’s in your best interests to talk to us first.’
“I was still shaking with terror for just being pulled off the street. I had no idea, you know, who these people were. I was never presented ... the badge you see on television with the picture and that. (They) just flashed something on their neck and said that was it.’’
Gristina’s recollection of terror at being arrested are at odds with reports that during the five-year investigation by the district attorney’s office, she was allegedly caught on wiretaps bragging of her close ties to law enforcement.
“If the Manhattan district attorney's office has that conversation, I want to hear it,’’ Pattis said. “But we are not going to try this case by innuendo.
“I don't know that Ms. Gristina was afraid of being arrested. I suspect you've said plenty of things that could be made to look sinister by a savvy questioner.”
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the open case.
On Tuesday, Gristina’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case, alleging in court papers that the Manhattan district attorney’s office nearly extorted her to get her to turn over information on her allegedly high-powered clients. The documents label the case a “vindictive prosecution’’ and claim that Gristina was only indicted because she wouldn’t give up the names of clients.
“It started off very nice,’’ she said about the initial interrogation. “Like very passive. ‘We believe you could be very useful in a very big investigation we have.’’’
She believes "100 percent" that prosecutors are keeping her in Rikers Island in order to "sweat her out" until she cooperates and gives up information on five alleged clients.
Gristina’s attorney denied she has information that could make life uncomfortable for some well-known figures.
“We don't believe she does, and the state does,’’ Pattis said. “Apparently it asked. You should direct that question to the district attorney’s office. Read on in the affidavit. When she asked for a lawyer what is it they said? ‘We'll see how you feel in a couple of weeks?’ It's been months.’’
“I have nothing to give them,’’ said Gristina. “That's why I'm still here.’’
Gristina added that friends and family are working to produce her bail money and she hopes to be home soon. The reduced package instituted on Tuesday would require Gristina to wear a monitoring bracelet at her expense if she posts bail.