Brooke Astor's Son Convicted of Larceny and Fraud

Anthony Marshall, the 85 year old son of philanthropist Brooke Astor, was convicted today of 16 crimes related to his handling of his mother's $200 million estate. The trial lasted 5 months. Astor, who died at age 105, had Alzheimer's.

What do you do with an 85 year old man who's convicted of a non-violent offense? Marshall can be sentenced to anywhere between 1 year and 25 years in prison.

What's next? The charities fight over which of Astor's wills is valid to get the most money they can. [More...]

How's this for a juror's view of the case? I don't quite get the analogy:

“It sort of reminded me, when I was in Brooklyn years ago and there was a blackout, and the lower-income people were stealing refrigerators and TVs, and they felt that was due to them,” said the juror, Yvonne Fernandez, 52, who works in the control room for the TruTV television channel, formerly CourtTV. “I feel that somewhere along the line, he felt, and his wife felt, that it was due to them. The story is so tragic and so sad.”

Sounds like she spent too much time in the control room watching Nancy Grace. I'm surprised the defense didn't use a preemptory challenge on her, just based on her employer.

Marshall's lead lawyer, Fred Hafetz (disclosure, he's an old friend and I think he's a terrific lawyer) after the verdict:

As he left the courthouse, Mr. Marshall’s lead lawyer, Frederick P. Hafetz, faulted jurors, asserted that the case should not have been in criminal court, and promised an appeal. “I’m stunned by the verdict, greatly disappointed with what the jury did,” he said.

“This case should have been left to probate court. He’s 85 years old, these charges are not criminal charges. Cases of these kinds of issues are always resolved in the probate court,” he continued. “I don’t know of any other case, in my experience, where there were essentially will issues that got decided in a criminal case.” He added, “Just like I said in my summation, he loved his mother and she loved him.”

It was not a quick deliberation, and one juror had asked to be released saying she felt threatened. The Judge refused:

The apparent strain among jurors became public on Monday, when they sent out a note that read, “Due to heated argument, a juror feels personally threatened by comments made by another juror.” “With regards to her personal safety,” the note continued, “she wishes to be dismissed anonymously.”

Justice Bartley sent the jury back to continue, encouraging its members to “let the touchstone of your deliberations be respect and civility.”

The case was the product of an investigation by the "Elder Abuse Unit" which is part of the Special Prosecutions Bureau of the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Does anyone agree with Marshall and his lawyers that this an estate case rather than a fraud or elder abuse case?

TalkLeft didn't cover this trial, so here are some related articles:

Here are some pictures of Mrs. Astor's New York Apartment, which was originally put up for sale at $46 million.

This is what I remember reading about the case a few years ago, after which I tuned it out.

She wears torn nightgowns and sleeps on a couch that smells of urine. Her bland diet includes pureed peas and oatmeal. Her dogs, once a source of comfort, are kept locked in a pantry.

A court filing alleges that this is the life of 104-year-old Brooke Astor, the multimillionaire Manhattan socialite who dedicated much of her vast fortune to promoting culture and alleviating human misery.

I have no idea if the jury made the right call. Elder abuse sucks. But isn't it just another form of elder abuse to send an 85 year old non-violent offender to prison, even if he's an elder abuser himself?

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    Wow (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Steve M on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:05:24 PM EST
    This surprises me.  Consensus around my lower Manhattan law office is that the prosecution was guilty of gross overkill by putting on such a lengthy case and that they were likely to regret it much as the OJ prosecutors did.  But you just never know with a jury.

    The whole episode is a really sad story all around.

    Elder abuse is non-violent? (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by nycstray on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:58:12 PM EST
    perhaps in this case he didn't hit her, but what about her well being, both mental and physical? It's also cruel to leave pets locked in a pantry. We should look past this because of his age?

    His son got worried about grandma and (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:00:25 PM EST
    how dad was handling her affairs.

    Interesting (none / 0) (#12)
    by Inspector Gadget on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:05:01 PM EST
    Was the grandson left out of the will?

    Money brings out some very bad behavior in people. Hard to know what really happened.


    Don't know. Doubt the DA's office cared. (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:06:18 PM EST
    It doesn't sound like those claims (none / 0) (#11)
    by Inspector Gadget on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:02:14 PM EST
    were brought to trial...maybe they found no evidence to support that. The quote doesn't reveal the source.

    He didn't live with her - he had 24 hour (none / 0) (#26)
    by ding7777 on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 09:09:38 PM EST
    help caring for her.. so if that tabloid article claiming abuse was correct (which it isn't) it would be the individual care takers who would be responsible.

    Punishing a criminal is not abuse (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by nyjets on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:46:04 PM EST
    "Elder abuse sucks. But isn't it just another form of elder abuse to send an 85 year old non-violent offender to prison, even if he's an elder abuser himself?"
    By that point of view, you would be giving a free license for elderly people to commit crimes. IF the gentleman broke the law, he should be punished, regardless of age.

    punishment is fine, it does not have to (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 10:34:55 PM EST
    be jail. The crime of which he was convicted carries a one year mandatory minimum sentence.

    And his crime was non-violent. Your definition of violent is not the law (thankfully.)


    Abuse vs Violent? (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by nycstray on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 11:32:12 PM EST
    Where's the line? Now I realize the difference between obvious physical violence, behavior etc, but on the legal/court level? What if this had happened in a nursing home? Or with a less famous family? What happens if the Elder Abuse Unit shows up at a home and finds deplorable conditions with an elder being poorly cared for? Don't the people get arrested and the person in need get help similar to a child abuse case?

    I guess in something like elder abuse where the elder wasn't physically hit and other "violent" acts, I'm not understanding how they classify abuse that could potentially cause more pain (mental and physical) suffering over a period of time than a violent act.


    Was any of that brought up (none / 0) (#24)
    by Inspector Gadget on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 09:35:22 AM EST
    in the trial? Either it wasn't, or the money attracted so much attention it pushed it aside.

    What charge was he on trial for that indicated he abused his mother? Convicted?


    I'm responding to comments here (none / 0) (#25)
    by nycstray on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 10:42:32 AM EST
    not the trial. I was hoping to keep my remarks/questions neutral enough so that I wasn't implicating the son or trial :)

    The abuse was alleged in court docs when originally filed, but I'm not sure of all the ins/outs. I was basically more about the "elder abuse sucks" and isn't it elder abuse to send and old man to jail for it and non-violent crime vs abuse.


    This is a criminal defense site. (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:50:37 PM EST
    Is defendant ineligible for probation? (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:16:59 PM EST
    Also, not classy criminal defense attorney:

    "I'm stunned by the verdict, greatly disappointed with what the jury did," he said.

    He is a defense attorney... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:19:33 PM EST
    ... it's his job to be mad at the jury on behalf of his client. Plus, he seems to at least arguably have a point.

    IN my experience, judges and the judges' (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:28:48 PM EST
    staff are put off by attorneys criticizing the jury's decision.  And guess who will impose sentence on defendant?

    It seems to me (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Steve M on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:39:28 PM EST
    that it is natural to express disappointment in the result, but it's not too cool to make it into a personal thing with the jurors.  They're just doing their civic duty, even if you feel they did a crappy job at it.

    Besides, when you appeal, you're going to blame it all on some kind of legal error by the court anyway, right?  If it's all the fault of the judge for giving bad jury instructions, can't exactly blame the jury then.


    Agree. Plus, if attorney plans to file a motion (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:58:19 PM EST
    for new trial and needs juror interviews followed by affidavits, will sd. jurors talk to his investigator?  

    he didn't criticize the jury (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 10:32:31 PM EST
    he said he was stunned and disappointed. He has a great reputation in New York and is quite accomplished and ethical. He was even an AUSA once.

    He served as Chief of the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York from 1977 to 1979. Prior to that he served two years as a Special Attorney of the Organized Crime Strike Force, Department of Justice, was Special Counsel of the United States House of Representatives, Select Committee on Crime, and was an Assistant District Attorney in New York County for five years.

    Your continual slam of defense matters and lawyers is not appreciated. You know you are on a defense site, can you either restrain yourself or show some respect?


    This case was all about Society (none / 0) (#6)
    by scribe on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:51:02 PM EST
    and that's Society with a capital S using the criminal process to effect what they wanted.  They wanted Astor's money for their pet charities and were willing to go after her son to get it.  Look at the witness list and all - it was the creme de la creme of the people who make the charity ball circuit and all that. This is so much an Edith Wharton novel.

    For all his bloodline, the defendant was not a part of their clique, and especially his downscale wife, and they went after him (because he was getting the money).

    Over the last decade or so in my practice, I've been involved in easily 20 cases - maybe as many as 50 (I haven't bothered to count) - where there was some level of undue influence being practiced by relatives on a weaker-minded or older relative or friend.  You name the permutation and I've probably seen it, or know someone who has.  These cases are always - unless there's a dead body and a smoking gun involved - resolved in the probate/chancery courts where the resolution is alwayus measured in dollars and cents and who owns what.  I've never been involved in, nor seen, one where a prosecution resulted.  

    I'm inclined to see those (none / 0) (#7)
    by Inspector Gadget on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 07:57:58 PM EST
    charities as non-profits. This part was particularly interesting:

    If the most recent will is upheld, many charities will lose millions of dollars, with the Met and the library -- both of which declined to comment for this article -- losing out on an estimated $10 million each.

    emphasis mine

    If they risk "losing out" on $10M each, they are getting plenty from this one source. There appears to be ample money in this estate to leave everyone with a very nice sum of money.

    I agree with the defense attorney...this should have been handled in probate court.

    Oh, and I can relate to what that juror in fear was feeling....ever been in a jury room? YIKES

    Remember - this jury was out (none / 0) (#14)
    by scribe on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:33:51 PM EST
    for 11 days.

    After 19 weeks of trial.


    Are you referring to the part (none / 0) (#15)
    by Inspector Gadget on Thu Oct 08, 2009 at 08:40:12 PM EST
    about the jury room?

    Yup. (none / 0) (#21)
    by scribe on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 08:38:06 AM EST
    I was once on a jury (none / 0) (#23)
    by Inspector Gadget on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 09:33:02 AM EST
    criminal/drug trial. Trial took 3 days, and the 8 hours in the jury room was non-stop outrage on the part of 10 jurors. That room can be terrifying without exhausion and stress from a lengthy event.

    Not jail (none / 0) (#22)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 09:01:34 AM EST
    But definitely he should pay monetarily, out the wazoo. It was nonviolent but it was certainly cruel--but I think, especially for people like this, hitting them where it really hurts is taking their $$$.

    From what I read (none / 0) (#27)
    by ding7777 on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 09:22:32 PM EST
    Brooke provided for Tony in her will but his inheritence would be returned to the Trust when he died.

    In order for Tony to pass the money on to his wife (which is what started the controversy),
    Tony started selling Brooke's possessions (and pocketing the money); had Brooke give him one of the houses before her death (which Tony immediately put into his wife'sname) and changed the LAST will so he money could flow to his wife after his death.

    No one cared that Tony was going to get the money only that his wife would get it too.