By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A woman who prosecutors say reaped millions of dollars running a Manhattan prostitution ring doesn't have "two nickels to rub together," her attorney said Monday in a hearing over whether she could keep her taxpayer-funded attorney.
The New York state judge in the case decided Anna Gristina may keep her free attorney for now, but warned that would end if prosecutors later prove the woman New York tabloids have dubbed the "Soccer Mom Madam" has hidden wealth.
Prosecutors claim she maintained a wealthy client list and boasted on recordings and wiretaps of law enforcement connections that would protect her.
"She doesn't have two nickels to rub together," attorney Peter Gleason told the judge, Acting Supreme Court Justice Juan Manuel Merchan.
Gleason offered to put his own Manhattan apartment up as collateral for her $1 million bail, a move prosecutors contested as unethical during a sometimes raucous hearing on Monday that featured bickering between defense attorneys.
Gristina faces one charge of promoting prostitution after what prosecutors said was a five-year investigation.
While allowing Gristina to keep a taxpayer-funded defender, Merchan declined to allow her to pick who that attorney would be.
Just who will defend Gristina was the focus of sparring between Gleason - a family friend who conceded in court he has no felony criminal defense experience - and the one appointed by the court, Richard Siracusa.
Gleason asked Merchan to remove Siracusa from the case, telling the judge that Siracusa had not visited Gristina in jail since her arrest.
Siracusa retorted that Gleason had been "nothing but a hindrance."
After a short recess, Siracusa told the judge Gristina had decided to hold off on her request to replace him with Gleason until she had time to discuss the case with him.
Justice Merchan, who noted the "friction" between the two lawyers had him concerned, made it clear that Siracusa, not Gleason, will handle Gristina's defense.
"Mr. Siracusa is your criminal attorney on this case," he told Gristina, a 44-year-old Scottish woman. "He will be the one who speaks for you. is always welcome to speak in court. But I want everything to be run through the criminal attorney."
Gristina will be back in court on Thursday for the judge to decide whether to adjust her bail terms.
(Reporting By Joseph Ax; Editing by Dan Burns and Daniel Trotta)