A SCOTS woman accused of being the madam at the centre of a high society prostitution ring in Manhattan has claimed she "lives the simple life".

Speaking from her prison cell in Rykers Island jail in New York, Anna Gristina, from Edinburgh, again denied she was involved in a 15-year vice operation in the Upper East Side of New York.

Gristina said in an interview with the New York Post that she was involved in real estate and denied making millions of dollars from prostitution, claiming she could not pay her bills nor keep her daughter in education.

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The mother-of-four said from behind bars: "We live very much a simple life.

"I still have no idea what they wanted. They are trying to squeeze me for information that I don't even know what it is, or have."

It comes after allegations emerged that the 44-year-old boasted about earning more than £6 million from prostitution.

Tapes secretly recorded by police are said to reveal Gristina telling an associate she always dealt in cash and made sure much of her money was in accounts based out of the US and held under a different name.

But in yesterday's interview, she said: "If I'm such a big, high-profile madam, making all this money, and they had to investigate me for five years, why did they arrest me on a single promoting-prostitution charge – and only after I refused to talk to them?"

She said: "They say I've made millions for years, and I have – for other people. I've been struggling to keep my daughter in college to pay the tuition. Our utilities are always on the verge of being shut off."

Gristina – who is being held in lieu of a £1m bond – spoke publicly for the first time yesterday since her arrest on February 22, when prosecutors claimed she has run a high-class brothel for businessmen for the past 15 years.

Asked if prosecutors' claims that she trafficked underage girls were true, she said: "Absolutely not."

Gristina had the bail set after Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan told the judge evidence suggested she has money set aside to flee.

Mr Linehan said that during a previous police investigation – apparently a reference to the 2008 prostitution bust in which former New York governor Eliot Spitzer was caught – Gristina had fled to Montreal in Canada where she has an apartment.

Kristin Davis, a New York madam who supplied Spitzer with prostitutes, has alleged it was the former governor himself who tipped off someone working for Gristina's business, Fleur d'Elite, about a sting on escort agencies – prompting the Scottish woman to flee temporarily.

Gristina was brought up in Kirkliston on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and before she married was known as Anna Tennant.

Gristina said she was put on suicide watch after first entering Rikers Island. Describing the prison, she said: "Picture an old military barracks, with plastic mattresses and rusty springs ... I'm in there by myself. It's a whole room. It smells like cat urine. It's just deplorable. It's not a normal Rikers cell."

She also spoke of her children, saying her youngest, a nine-year-old boy, had initially thought she was dead when she didn't come home after being arrested.

Gristina added: "He knows now that's not true, but it's just really hard. I just don't want my kids to see me in here."

She also said that prosecutors had quizzed her various New York real-estate moguls and investment bankers. Gristina describes herself as a real-estate developer and insists she has no idea why prosecutors are following the line of questioning regarding leading New York figures.

She said: "I'd bite my tongue off before I'd tell them anything."

Her third husband, Kelvin Gorr, has been quoted in American media as backing Gristina, saying that "my wife means everything to me ... I feel heartbroken".

Gwen Tennant, Gristina's sister-in-law who lives in Craigentinny, Edinburgh, was earlier reported to have said that she was "not surprised to hear she is involved in this".

Gristina will remain in custody until her trial in May.