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Charges of Financial Fraud Dominate the Beginning of Brooke Astor’s Son’s Trial

The prosecutor said Astor had long planned to leave Marshall quite well off, willing him her 14-room Park Avenue duplex, a 64-acre estate in Westchester County, N.Y., another summer estate in Maine and a “small” $4 million Manhattan apartment. In addition to the properties, worth a total of $40 million, Astor’s will as of early 2002 left Marshall $5 million in cash and a guaranteed annual income worth millions more from a trust fund.

“But that wasn’t good enough for Anthony Marshall,” said Loewy.

Transfer of Wealth

Brooke Astor planned to eventually leave most of two family trusts worth approximately $120 million to charity. Instead of adhering to his mother’s wishes, Marshall enlisted Morrissey’s help to systematically drain his mother’s estate and “line their own pockets” with money earmarked for charity, Loewy said.

In 2003, with the help of her mother’s longtime attorney, Henry “Terry” Christensen, who is not being charged in the case, Marshall obtained signed authorization from his mother approving a $5 million cash gift to himself. Marshall and Christensen then orchestrated a mother-to-son deed transfer of her $5.5 million summer estate in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Marshall quietly transferred the property to his wife, Charlene, in defiance of Astor’s wishes that her grandson Philip, who is Marshall’s son, inherit the house, Loewy said.

Although Astor no longer owned the Maine estate and a broken hip had prevented her from even traveling there anymore, Marshall, as his mother’s official financial adviser, charged about $600,000 in costs to maintain and update the estate from his mother’s funds, Loewy said.

During 2003, Loewy said, Marshall had falsely “convinced his mother she was running out of money” and tricked her into selling one of her most beloved paintings, Childe Hassam's Flags, Fifth Avenue, to a gallery for $10 million while secretly cutting a side deal to receive a $2 million commission. The gallery resold the painting about a year later for $29 million, Loewy said.

As 2003 closed out, “Marshall set his sights much higher for the next grab at his mother’s money,” the prosecutor said.

'What Did I Do?'

On Jan. 12, 2004, Marshall, Morrissey and two other attorneys “literally pulled Mrs. Astor out of the arms of one of her nurses,” at her Park Avenue apartment and made her sign an amended will, Loewy said.

Afterward, Loewy said, a befuddled Astor, whose Alzheimer’s now included episodes of hallucinations, asked her nurse, “Who are those men? What did I do?” For weeks after, Astor had nightmares about “men in suits coming to get her,” Loewy said.

That will amendment concerned a $60 million trust fund that Astor had earmarked to eventually be donated to charities. Instead, her son now received that money “outright.”

The will change also granted Marshall full power of attorney over his mother’s affairs. Motivated by a “preoccupation to get money for Charlene” and her children, Marshall “continued to find ways to take advantage of [Astor’s] diminishing mental capabilities,” Loewy said.

Even though he was spending only a few hours a week as his mother’s financial adviser, in 2005 Marshall approved a $900,000 raise for himself, up to $1.4 million a year. Then he ordered his mother’s accountants to make it retroactive to 2004. As soon as he received the $900,000 check covering the pay bump, Marshall bought a 55-foot yacht with it, Loewy said. He then arranged so his boat captain’s $52,000-a-year salary would be paid by his mother’s funds.

At the same time that Loewy said Marshall was living it up on his mother’s money, he was cutting back on her expenses, closing down her Holly Hill estate, despite the fact that Astor had made it clear she wanted to die there, and firing the estate’s staff. He also fired her longtime “beloved” chauffeur and refused to pay for even relatively inexpensive items like air purifiers.

“She loved her son, but she went through great lengths throughout her life to protect her charities and protect her legacy,” Loewy said. “That should have been worth something.”

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