The city Department of Correction and the Correction Officers Benevolent Association are not always on the same side of the issue, but they were in agreement last week that a claim by the alleged “soccer-mom madam” that she was held in solitary confinement in a T-shirt and diaper was bogus.
On her website, www.helpanna.org, the family and attorneys of defendant Anna Gristina say that while she is being held “with an unjust bail, set higher than the charge against her warrants,” she 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.”
‘It’s All Untrue’
“It is not unusual for an inmate to exaggerate their conditions in jail to gain sympathy from their family,” DOC spokeswoman Sharman Stein said in an e-mail. “That appears to be what the case is here—these allegations by Ms. Gristina are completely false.”
Ms. Gristina was being held last week in the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s jail on Rikers Island, Ms. Stein said. She was not in solitary confinement but in protective custody, in single-cell housing.
“She is there for her own protection, as we do for all high-profile inmates (male and female),” Ms. Stein wrote. “She is being housed in that unit with six other inmates, with whom she can mingle for hours every day. She is able to leave her cell for many hours a day—to eat in the dayroom, to go to mandated services such as recreation, showers, law library, social services.”
'No Reports of Vermin'
On the subject of rats and roaches, Ms. Stein said, “We have an exterminator that makes regular rounds in all areas. There have been no reports of vermin in that area.”
Ms. Gristina was wearing a T-shirt and her own underwear when a Correction Captain visited her on the morning of April 26, the day news of the website’s claims was published. “As a detainee, she is entitled to wear her own clothes,” Ms. Stein wrote.
The temperature in the building where she is housed was 75 degrees that morning, Ms. Stein said. She noted that “the inmate’s window was closed although she does have a window crank that opens the window whenever she wants it opened.”
“Correction Officers employ the utmost professionalism while providing for the care, custody, and control of every inmate no matter who the inmate may be and no matter how high of a media profile that inmate may have,” said COBA President Norman Seabrook. “Is it true that Rikers Island is home to 10 jails that are designed to keep prisoners secure and the public safe? Yes! Were these jails constructed to be a five-star hotel? Absolutely not!
“The public needs to know that New York City’s Boldest will continue to work around the clock to ensure that every inmate–whether they are the alleged Soccer-Mom Madam, hip-hop stars, international diplomats or the common criminal—will be supervised by the same policies and procedures. Furthermore, as far as her claim that she is forced to endure 100-plus temperatures in her housing area that forces her to be placed in a diaper, I find that very, very hard to believe.”
Prosecutors say Ms. Gristina, 44, made millions of dollars running an Upper East Side brothel that catered to wealthy clients. State Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan said he set an unusually high bail—$2 million, with a $1-million cash alternative—because of the risk that she would flee. Mr. Gristina lives with her husband and four children in upstate Monroe.
“Our small family cannot afford the huge bail amount set for her—two million dollars!” says the website. “We are hoping that you will donate to help us pay for her bail, so she can live at home before the trial. We need our Mom here.”