The Brothel Next Door

So, last night there were news trucks on my block as I arrived home. Turns out that a few doors down a woman was running a brothel. I had no idea.

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A mother of four made millions running an Upper East Side brothel and is now sitting in Rikers Island jail on a $2 million bond after a five-year investigation by the DA’s public corruption unit, according to stunning court documents obtained by

Anna Gristina, 44, was indicted on Feb. 22 by a Manhattan grand jury on a single charge of promoting prostitution and was arrested while meeting with a Morgan Stanley banker who she’d been trying to convince to help her expand her empire online, according to court documents.

Gristina, who prosecutors claim to have on tape admitting she made millions in 15 years as a madam, was hit with the hefty bail after the DA’s office claimed that her network of wealthy male clients and associates, combined with a home in Canada and British passport, made her a flight risk.

At her Feb. 23 arraignment in front of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, prosecutors said the public corruption unit had nearly a hundred hours of audio and video surveillance that showed Gristina had been providing prostitutes — including some who were underage — to a slew of powerful men out of an apartment on East 78th Street, according to a transcript.

Prosecutors said the alleged madam had even bragged during the Eliot Spitzer investigation that she had a network of law enforcement sources poised to tip her off if her business was being watched, according to the documents.
The rest of the details and a picture of the building here.

When I left for work at 6:40am, the news trucks were there—seemingly having stayed overnight on a stakeout. It looked like one guy was stretched out vertically sleeping in one of the trucks. Talk about uncomfortable and extreme. I asked the beautiful reporter on the street which building it was and she briefly interviewed me. I distinctly remember there being several occasions where I’d see couples making out outside the door she pointed out. I always thought they just looked really in love. It was always beautiful women. I never suspected anything. And, who knows, maybe I just saw actual couples who live in that building too! But that’s all I had to tell the reporter. If a clip of me makes the news that would be it.

The reporter was funny though, her questions were gossipy like “Did you ever imagine this could happen in this neighborhood?” and “Can you believe the scale of it, they were said to be making millions of dollars?” And I just shrugged. This is Manhattan. What was I supposed to say: “I’m shocked! To think that in our little town!” or “On this quiet little street?” I mean, it’s surprising that it was just a couple doors over from my apartment building but I was much more surprised when they described her as a soccer mom. They say the woman who ran the brothel down the street from me on the Upper East Side was also a “soccer mom”. I find it much more surprising that I was living near a “soccer mom” than a madam here on the Upper East Side. So anyway all I could think during the reporters questions (but none of which I managed to blurt out) was:  There are a lot of businesses here, so it’s not like some random residential street. This is a couple avenues over from the wealthiest parts of America, there’s got to be brothels somewhere. Prostitution should not even be illegal, but regulated to make sure the sex workers are of age, are capable of freely consenting and refusing, and are required to enforce strict health protections for themselves and their clients. And I hoped that in this case everyone was legal, no one was a sex slave, and that the women working there are safe and won’t have their lives ruined over this.

But then it was upsetting to learn eventually that there were some underage girls there. So this went beyond prostitution to clear rape and exploitation. So now I hope even more that the women and girls have not already had their lives severely damaged by this and I hope the unscrupulous madam and the powerful male clientele are duly punished. Think the men actually will be? Apparently there is nearly 100 hours of surveillance audio and videotape.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Raging Bee

    I was all set to sympathize with this madam, but then came the bit about underage hookers. For that, she really should go to jail.

    And yes, the reporters’ questions were totally stupid. What, the neighbors’ imaginings were as newsworthy as the bust? That says a lot about their priorities.

    • Artor

      Exactly. I was getting my dander up about prosecution of victimless, consentual “crimes,” until it mentioned the underage girls. I wonder if that’s true, or if the prosecutors made it up to spoil any sympathy for the defendant. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    • John Morales

      I was all set to sympathize with this madam, but then came the bit about underage hookers. For that, she really should go to jail.

      Since (clearly) you have take no issue with sex work per se, I ask: what is the appropriate age for someone to become a sex worker?

    • Daniel Fincke

      18 strikes me as reasonable. 21 is more ideal but were it legal.

      Some more ambivalence on my part related to prostitution.

  • RealityBasedSteve

    I remember once when I was a small tyke, I saw something in the paper I didn’t understand, so I went an asked my Mom “What’s a Brothel?”. She looked her 6 Y/O son square in the eye and told me
    “It’s a place where they make soup”.

    I then asked her why our mayor had been arrested for getting soup.

    We never let each other forget that one.


    • reasonbeing

      “Why did the major get arrested for getting soup?”–Funniest thing I have read all day. Thanks.

    • gabbeh

      Best. Story. Ever.

      The article, on the other hand… Well, I hope that the johns who slept with underage girls get the book tossed at them.

  • Didaktylos

    You know, it’s very seldom you hear that a brothel has been busted because of complaints from the neighbours …

    • Ysanne

      Actually, in Germany, where prostitution is legal under certain circumstances, you do get lots of these complaints in apartment blocks where prostitutes have their work apartments.
      It’s about bad the behaviour of their clients: Leaving rubbish everywhere, showing up drunk in the middle of the night and making trouble, ringing the bell at the wrong door and being a dick when they’re told so, etc.
      People seem to behave better when they want to avoid attention.

    • FlipC

      But that’s more anti-social behaviour rather than illegality.

      If you’re running an illegal practice and are already keeping it (obviously) under wraps where’s the ‘harm’ in adding a few more illegalities? After all even if some of your client base disapprove they’re hardly going to report you.

      In for a penny, in for a pound; if the risk’s the same.

  • lordshipmayhem

    The rules in Canada governing prostitution are quite absurd.

    It’s not illegal to BE a prostitute, to accept money for sexual services rendered. Nor is it illegal to be a john, as long as the prostitute is a legal, consenting adult. No kids, please, we’re Canadian.

    On the other hand, communications for the purposes of prostitution are not legal. Think about that for a moment.

    It’s illegal to negotiate a perfectly legal transaction. It’s also illegal to run a commercial establishment dealing with a perfectly legal transaction.

    (The purpose of the “communication” part of the laws is to keep prostitutes from turning tricks on the street. How well it works is debatable.)

    Many years ago, when I took a tax preparation course, our instructor told of a client she had who was a member of the World’s Oldest Profession. She prepared the woman’s tax return – they’d go through her date book and total up all that the clients had paid her. That meant that the income tax authorities couldn’t go after her for evasion.

    You’re not going to stop prostitution, the best you can do is control it. They should have let this woman run her business as if it were a fully legitimate business, like a bar or a dry cleaner’s, maybe by only permitting it in areas zoned for entertainment or light industrial. Then you can tax it. Cheaper than trying to send the cops to try to eliminate it.

  • tim

    We watched a piece on NY1 this morning, and couldn’t stop laughing at all the people that were “shocked” this could happen on the UES.


    • Daniel Fincke

      We watched a piece on NY1 this morning, and couldn’t stop laughing at all the people that were “shocked” this could happen on the UES.


      Right, the reporter was asking for shock and I was like, “whatever”. My heart didn’t sink until I read about the underage on the internet. The women I remember seeing were clearly adults.

      Any sense of “how could that happen here”, if genuine, is an unpleasant bit of elitism probably.

  • Happiestsadist

    There was a brothel shut down in my hometown two doors down from my apartment. My bedroom window overlooked the place, but I slept through it. Up until the time a car blew up in a different apartment’s parking lot, and the time a building was demolished next door, both of which I slept through, I never knew if I was just a heavy sleeper or the city’s cops were really quiet.

    The fact that minors were there means she needs to be punished. Beyond that, at the very least decriminalizing sex work would lead to a safer environment for sex workers.

  • Francisco Bacopa

    There’s a brothel one building over from my apartment building and another just over a half mile away. They are everywhere retail space is under rented and cheap. And it’s obvious what these places are.

    I think around here the DA’s office only cares about what’s going on in the streets.

  • ursa major

    There have been a few brothels in my neighborhood and several probable brothels operating as spas can be found in nearby strip (hehe, I said strip) malls in the area.

    They have been quiet and caused no problems I am aware of. The crazy neighbor who kept throwing thrash in my yard (a deputy sheriff to boot), the guy who tried to encourage the young man with Down’s to grab a gun a shoot people, those shaking my house with their
    car stereos at 3AM, now they were all problems.

  • Bret

    I’m about to tread on ground I know is ripe for serious moral peril, but…

    Considering the age of consent in New York is 17, is sex with a 17 year old prostitute really that horribly disgusting? Why can a 17 year old give it away, but not charge?

    And for the record, almost every woman I ever dated was older than me… to the point that I was more likely to be on the possible “victim” end of such charges. I’m not sure age is the best measure for such things, though until we figure out a maturity scale, I guess it’s the best we have.

    Sort of brings up another of those moral conundrums: what should the age of consent be?

    • had3

      And if the personhood starts at conception crap ever passes, does that mean that a formerly 16 yr old girl is now suddenly 17 because she was a person 9 months before she was born? etc…

    • Timid Atheist

      The problem with using anything but age is that maturity is relative. A sixteen year old might be mature enough to do their chores without being asked, but are they really emotionally ready to be sleeping with an adult? Some might be, but some might only think they are and then have to deal with the fall out of their poor choice.

      It’s quite different for a sixteen year old to be sleeping with someone of their own age than to be sleeping with someone who is even three or four years older.

      I have serious issues with anyone willing to argue that it’s okay for adults, regardless of gender, to sleep with teenagers. I don’t feel it’s my place to stop consenting people from engaging in whatever they like, but consent laws are in place because it protects those teenagers who aren’t of age or maturity. If someone finds a teen attractive at sixteen then they should have no problem waiting until they’re an adult and on equal footing to engage in whatever activities they so desire.

      Regardless of age or maturity it seems to me that an adult who is eager to be sexual with someone younger than the consent laws is using their age and adult status as leverage. There’s a power imbalance there that exists even if the adult isn’t a teacher or guardian or other kind of authority figure.

  • reasonbeing

    I do not have any brothels in my neighborhood (that I am aware of). That said, I hope that the woman in your neighborhood and her clients are prosecute to the full extent of the law. Ignoring what Bret said above me, I think that when you are dealing with underage kids the whole game changes. I really do not have any sympathy for the Johns in this case who could also not draw that line.

    The question of will they be fully prosecuted probably and unfortunately depends on who they are and who their lawyer is. Which is a shame.

  • timgueguen

    We had a massage parlour/brothel shut down here in Saskatoon a couple of years ago, with three women eventually being convicted of various crimes. It was half a block from City Hospital, making me wonder if they hoped to get doctors as clients. The building itself has been up for sale for a year or more, so perhaps having been a brothel isn’t a selling point.

  • seditiosus

    Possibly one of the best arguments for legalising brothels is that doing so makes it easier to regulate and ensure the workers aren’t underage and are working there by choice.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Think of the poor guy who had nine punches on his card and was due for a free handjob on his next visit.

  • Ace of Sevens

    How’s it being covered? Is it going to be a big, official slut-shaming of all the hookers?

    • Daniel Fincke

      I’ve seen very little. My vague impression is that the emphasis is on the lurid glamour of this being “high class”. It’s Client #9/Heide Fleiss/classist stuff.

  • BenSix

    Turns out that a few doors down a woman was running a brothel. I had no idea.

    The real question is: who make the best neighbours? Prostitutes or serial killers?

  • Kevin

    So, my question is: 100 HOURS of video tape?

    They needed 100 HOURS of video tape before they made a bust?

    Reminds me of that joke about the bear — past a certain point, they weren’t there for the hunting.

  • jrb

    I found out a few years ago (from a utility worker on project in my neighborhood) that there is a brothel just a few hundred feet from my house (later confirmed this –and that there are no kids — with conversations with other people).

    It’s been there for years, looks sort of like a doctor’s office and is still there.

    Personally, as long as it’s consenting adults I don’t believe it’s any more of the government’s business then who hooks up with whom at a bar, or through a dating service. It’s disturbing that while progressives are correctly intent on defending gay and transgendered people, many refuse to extend that defense to other sexual subgroups.