Manhattan doctor accused of fleecing mother out of $800,000

Prosecutors are calling it an Astor copycat case
Anemona Hartocollis
January 24, 2008
The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/24/nyregion/24badson.html?em&ex=1201323600&en=f8097f5b2304a0b6&ei=5087%0A
As with Brooke Astor, the late socialite and philanthropist, there is a son who took care of his elderly mother, and relatives who claim that he mistreated her.

In the latest case, an Upper East Side doctor, Robin O. Motz, 68, has been accused of swindling his mother, Minnie, 94, a retired librarian and the widow of a Columbia University astronomy professor, out of her last $800,000. Prosecutors said Dr. Motz spent the money on luxuries like vacations, a country house and fancy clothes.

“It’s a mini-Astor case,” Daniel Castleman, chief of investigations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said on Wednesday in announcing Dr. Motz’s indictment on grand larceny and money-laundering charges.

As in the Astor case — in which Anthony D. Marshall, Mrs. Astor’s son, has pleaded not guilty to stealing millions of dollars from her — much remains in dispute.

Dr. Motz, who pleaded not guilty on Wednesday at an arraignment in State Supreme Court, insisted through his lawyer, Sean Dwyer, that he was only trying to do the right thing for his mother.

Mr. Dwyer described Dr. Motz, who has a part-time practice in Englewood, N.J., and is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, as a “dedicated physician and compassionate son,” and contended that “there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye.” He declined to go into detail.

Dr. Motz, who was released on condition that he post $200,000 cash bail by Monday, said only, “I never comment to the press.”

In a telephone interview on Wednesday from her home in California, Dr. Motz’s sister, Julie, endorsed the prosecutor’s Astor analogy, saying that news accounts of the Astor case had emboldened her and her niece, Nicole Motz, to take their suspicions of mistreatment to the district attorney.

“We’re upper middle class, intellectual people,” Ms. Motz said. “I think people think this sort of thing doesn’t happen in families like that, that it’s somehow a lower-economic tragedy. Of course we do have the example of the Astors, don’t we?”

She said that her mother had been reluctant to think ill of her son at first but then testified against him before the grand jury that indicted him. Prosecutors said that while Mrs. Motz had been immobilized by physical disabilities, she was still mentally alert.

Ms. Motz said the family has been unraveling since her father, Lloyd Motz, died in 2004 at the age of 94.

She said relations with her brother were strained because she was an “energy healer,” and he did not approve of her practice of alternative medicine.

In 2004, prosecutors said, Dr. Motz persuaded his mother to rewrite her will so that instead of giving equal shares to him and his sister, Ms. Motz was disinherited.

Ms. Motz said the second will also disinherited Dr. Motz’s daughter, Nicole, while giving small bequests to his two sons. Ms. Motz said Dr. Motz, who lives on East 84th Street, tried to put their mother’s Upper Manhattan apartment in his name, but was prevented from doing so by a provision in her father’s will.

She said Nicole Motz, a physical therapist in Tenafly, N.J., had been very close to her grandmother, giving a 90th birthday party for her, but that Dr. Motz persuaded his mother to bar his daughter from her apartment.

Prosecutors said Mrs. Motz’s financial plight came to light when Dr. Motz had a dispute with a home health aide and stopped paying her salary and the maintenance on his mother’s apartment.

Mrs. Motz was threatened with eviction, prosecutors said. A social worker at her building investigated, and realized that she had run out of money, prosecutors said. She was not evicted.

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