Alleged NYC madam's co-defendant pleads not guilty

March 14, 2012 6:15:49 AM PDT
A matchmaking recruiter accused of helping to run a big-money brothel turned herself in Tuesday to face a criminal charge - and a growing media frenzy surrounding the case.

Dozens of reporters and photographers crowded a courtroom for Jaynie Mae Baker's arraignment and trailed her as she left court on $100,000 bond and made her way to a waiting car.

The 30-year-old Baker, dressed in tan tailored pants and a silky pale-blue shirt, with her long, straight strawberry-blonde hair curled at the ends, held her head high as she pleaded not guilty to the sole charge against her and reputed madam Anna Gristina: a low-level felony count of promoting prostitution.

Prosecutors say the investigation is continuing, and they have suggested there could be more to the case. They've said that Gristina, a suburban mother who's accused of providing prostitutes to power brokers, was heard during a five-year investigation claiming she had contacts in law enforcement.

Regardless, the case has already become a cause celebre in the New York media, all but monopolizing the city's tabloid newspapers since news of Gristina's February arrest broke with a splash last month. Gristina also has pleaded not guilty; her lawyers say she was simply starting a high-end, above-board dating service.

Baker's whereabouts, meanwhile, were unknown. She was on vacation - not on the lam - in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb said Tuesday. She'd gone to California and then Mexico to keep her younger sister company as the sister grapples with a difficult divorce, he said.

After friends told Baker last week that reporters were massed outside her apartment and looking for her, she called Gottlieb on Thursday, and he contacted prosecutors on Friday to say she'd surrender, he said. She flew back Saturday and was prepared to turn herself in Monday, he said.

"There was never any question of her coming back to face these charges," Gottlieb said after court as he described his client as a dedicated charity volunteer and matchmaker, not a madam.

Baker was listed until recently as a recruiter for high-end matchmaking service VIP Life, but founder Lisa Clampitt said Baker was a freelancer who never ended up referring a client or getting paid during the six months she was associated with the service.

Baker and Gristina were working together on Gristina's planned matchmaking business, with Baker going to some networking meetings for the business, said Vincent Parco, a private investigator Gristina hired to check prospective dating-service clients' backgrounds. The two women have known each other for some time and socialized together at charitable functions, he said.

Gottlieb wouldn't discuss whether Baker knows Gristina or the allegations against them.

But he said "there is nothing sordid, nothing illegal" in Baker's work, and her life outside it includes an extensive list of charitable projects, from working in New York soup kitchens to traveling with priests to aid a Romanian orphanage to going to India to help get clothing to the poor.

"Ms. Baker is a wonderful, good-hearted, decent young woman ... a compassionate, caring and very socially conscious young woman," he said.

But prosecutors painted another picture.

"We have had numerous informants over the years who have, at times, discussed Ms. Baker's role in the (prostitution) operation," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan said in court on Tuesday.

Prosecutors "anticipate we will develop additional evidence against" her, he added.

Still, prosecutors agreed to her $100,000 bond, posted by her sister, Jessica Baker, and a friend, business consultant Marcus Laun. Jessica Baker was in court Tuesday and declined to comment; efforts to reach Laun were unsuccessful.

Baker's bail is sharply lower than the $2 million bond that has kept Gristina, 44, at the city's Rikers Island jail since her arraignment last month.

Prosecutors have said the Scottish-born Gristina, who remains a British citizen, had said she would flee if she got in trouble and may have money stashed away to do so.

One of her lawyers, Peter J. Gleason, has said she's broke - so much so that he has offered his own $2.5 million Manhattan loft to secure her bail and to serve as a house-arrest site for her. A hearing on the unusual proposal is set for Thursday.

If convicted, Gristina and Baker each could face up to seven years in prison.

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