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Online fundraising's new era: Alleged Manhattan madam seeks bail

April 26, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Anna Gristina, who is charged with promoting prostitution, appears in state Supreme Court in Manhattan with her attorney Peter Gleason in March.
Anna Gristina, who is charged with promoting prostitution, appears in… (Louis Lanzano / Associated…)

The family of the woman accused of being a multimillion-dollar madam has taken a page – web, that is – from the latest fundraising tool to help defendants find a way through the labyrinth of the criminal justice system.

Anna Gristina’s family has created a website,, to help the woman accused of being a top-drawer Manhattan madam raise money for bail. She is being held in lieu of $2-million bail, and her family wants her home.

“We have created our website to tell you our story, about how much we miss our Mom, and what you can do to bring her back to us,” reads the opening message as family portraits and pictures of rescued animals revolve through the opening sequence. “There is never a day, a morning, an hour, a minute that goes by that we don’t miss our Mother, Anna Gristina-Gorr. To us, she is the woman who we call for when we are sick, who goes to our school plays and soccer games, who smiles in our eyes. She is Mom.”

Gristina is following in some well-worn footsteps.

George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., also had a personal website that solicited funds -- until his lawyer closed it down this week. It was not known how much money, earmarked at the time for expenses, was raised. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed 17-year-old, was released on a $150,000 bond.

Nor should it be much of a surprise that the growth of the web and social media as the new public square has made it a rich source of funding. Putting aside the biggest and most frequent fundraising challenge -- political campaigns that will draw billions of dollars through electronic solicitations this year -- crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding have helped pay for new companies, record albums and even charities. It was only a question of time until it moved into the criminal defense realm.

But the latest website is also an information -- or depending on your viewpoint, propaganda -- tool. Gristina’s family members use it to argue against what it sees as the high bail set by the court and what they say are unfair jail conditions.

“Anna Gristina-Gorr has not been convicted of anything,” the family notes on the website, echoing a frequent complaint by all defendants needing to raise bail. “She awaits trial on Riker’s Island, with an unjust bail, set higher than the charge against her warrants. The bail, set at a 2 million dollar bond or 1 million in cash, is cruel and unusual. Real criminals, such as alleged rapists, murders and child molesters have been required to pay less bail than she.

“Even more horrific are the conditions of the facility she is being held in,” the family goes on. “As if this wife and mother was a war-criminal, Anna is kept in solitary confinement, in a room where the temperatures exceed over 100 degrees. Rats and roaches scurry all around her. The authorities humiliated her further by attempting to make her wear only a t-shirt and diaper. So much pain is being inflicted on a woman who has not been convicted, who according to America’s own justice system, deserves to be treated innocent unless proven guilty.”

Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, told CBS: “All of the allegations that are being made are untrue.”

“This is not solitary confinement,” Stein said. “It is not punishment. It is protective custody, a single-cell housing, as is true for many other inmates in the system and for all high-profile inmates.”

Gristina was arrested on in February on a charge of promoting prostitution. Since then, the judge has agreed with prosecutors that Gristina is a flight risk and has refused to lower her $2-million bail.


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