Friday 20 April 2018

Heir, 89, is jailed for siphoning off mother's millions

Philanthropist Brooke Astor's only child, a decorated war hero, helped himself from $200m estate as Alzheimer's reduced society doyenne to living in squalor

Anthony D. Marshall
Anthony D. Marshall

Hannah Strange

The 89-year-old heir to one of America's original dynastic fortunes has been sent to a New York prison for looting millions of dollars from his philanthropist mother, Brooke Astor, as her mind slipped away to Alzheimer's disease.

Anthony Marshall was taken to jail in a wheelchair to serve one to three years for taking advantage of his mother's condition to plunder her wealth.

His incarceration, which he had avoided for nearly four years after his conviction by launching a series of appeals, brings to a close a dramatic seven-year saga of plots, betrayals and feuding between members of one of America's most prominent moneyed families.

It was an ignominious end for the privileged scion of the family once known as the "landlords of New York".

As the sentence was announced, Marshall, who won a Purple Heart at Iwo Jima in World War II, sat quietly in his wheelchair dressed in a tracksuit and slippers.

The judge said he was handing down the sentence – the minimum possible for the conviction – unhappily.

"I take no pleasure in following my duties," said Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Kirke Bartley.

Lawyers for the Astor heir, who will be the fourth-oldest inmate in a New York state prison, say he may not survive jail. He suffers from Parkinson's disease and is confined to a wheelchair. At night he is reliant on an oxygen tank and is unable to get out of bed, go to the toilet or dress himself without assistance.

"Incarceration will simply make his final days more tortured and undoubtedly fewer in number. There is truly no just purpose for this punishment," his lawyers said.

Marshall always maintained that Mrs Astor had voluntarily altered her will and that he was legally permitted to buy himself gifts using her money, including a $920,000 (€700,000) yacht.

Marshall and Francis Morrissey Jr, a former estates lawyer, were accused of forging Mrs Astor's signature on a change to her will and convicted in 2009. Morrissey, 72, was sent to jail on Thursday.

Marshall was silent throughout Friday's short hearing. However, one of his sons, who had testified against him in the original trial, pleaded in a letter to the court that he be spared imprisonment, pointing to his military service and arguing that he had been punished enough.

"I am very concerned about his future," said Alec Marshall.

Cyrus Vance Jnr, the Manhattan District Attorney, said the jail sentence represented overdue justice for Mrs Astor and sent a strong message about the financial exploitation of elderly people.

"I believe that the legacy of this prosecution will be that it raised public awareness of the silent epidemic of elder abuse," Mr Vance said in a statement.

The Astor case enthralled Americans with its rarefied cast of Park Avenue socialites, Manhattan business barons, New England royalty and political power-brokers.

Friends of the Astors including Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters and David Rockefeller provided testimony as the court heard how the society doyenne ended her days living in squalor while her son helped himself to her millions.

The trial also featured a representative of the British side of the Astor family – the stepfather-in-law of Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord William Waldorf Astor.

Samantha Cameron's stepfather, the 4th Viscount Astor – who along with Baron Astor is one of two family members to hold a British hereditary peerage – told how on a visit to "cousin Brooke" in New York, he noticed that a beloved painting had disappeared.

"Good Lord, what's happened to the picture?" wondered Lord Astor when he saw the space where her Childe Hassam painting had been.

"I was amazed," Lord Astor testified in April 2009. "She said Tony had sold it because she needed the money, which was a somewhat surprising remark for her to make."

Mrs Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105, nine years after she was awarded the US's top civil honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her charity work.

She had inherited her wealth from her third husband, Vincent Astor, a descendant of real estate and fur magnate John Jacob Astor.

Marshall, who became a US ambassador and a Broadway producer, was Mrs Astor's only child and a product of her first marriage. The trial portrayed a tense relationship between Mrs Astor and a son desperate for an approval that was never forthcoming. She once told a friend: "I wish Tony had made something of himself instead of waiting for the money."

The affair came into the public domain in 2006 when Marshall's son, Philip, brought a civil suit accusing him of neglecting Mrs Astor while siphoning off her $200m (€152m) estate. Marshall denied the claims, but relinquished his mother's guardianship.

In the subsequent criminal case, prosecutors said Marshall exploited his mother's mental deterioration to buy himself expensive goods with her money, take valuable artwork from her home and change her will to benefit him, largely to please the wife his mother had never liked.

Charlene Marshall, the wife prosecutors portrayed during the trial as a greedy social climber, sobbed as she accompanied her husband to court on Friday.

© Telegraph

Irish Independent

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