Trials & Litigation

Did Son & NY Lawyer 'Steal' $60M from Socialite Brooke Astor's Estate?

Prosecutors have accused the son of a famous New York socialite and her lawyer of siphoning $60 million from her estate by taking advantage of her diminished mental capacity to alter her will.

But in dozens of wills Brooke Astor signed over a 40-year period beginning in 1953, she gave absolutely nothing to charity from her own residuary estate, an attorney for her son argued in defense opening statements that began today. All of her well-known philanthropy was funded from with money from her husband’s foundation, which required that the money go to charity, reports the New York Times.

Astor died two years ago, at age 105, after suffering for some time from Alzheimer’s disease. In the government’s opening yesterday, prosecutor Elizabeth Loewy said Astor’s 84-year-old son, Anthony Marshall, and attorney Francis Morrissey Jr., 66, “exploited” her degraded mental abilities to “steal” $60 million that she intended to give to charities in her will, recounts the New York Law Journal in an article reprinted by New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

At the heart of the case is a series of codicils to Astor’s 2002 will. Morrissey is accused of either forging himself or encouraging someone else to forge Astor’s signature to the third and final codicil in 2004, which gave her $60 million residuary estate to her son. Loewy also contended that Marshall successfully pressured his mother’s former estate lawyer, who was fired by Marshall in 2004, to persuade his mother to give Marshall multimillion-dollar gifts while she was still alive, the legal publication reports.

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Loewy, who is in charge of the elder abuse unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, contends that Astor intentionally cut her daughter-in-law out of wills she made between 1993 and 2003.

However, attorney Frederick Hafetz, who is defending Marshall, says Astor then had a change of heart about Charlene Marshall, because she made Anthony Marshall happy, the New York Times reports. As he spoke, Charlene Marshall leaned forward and wept.

A columnist for the New York Daily News suggests that Marshall’s wife would do more to help her husband’s image with the jury if she left her seat cushion at home during the Manhattan Supreme Court trial.

Additional coverage: (Nov. 2007): “Brooke Astor’s Son, Lawyer Face Criminal Charges” (Aug. 2007): “Challenge of Astor Will Called ‘Absurd’”

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