Week five of Astor estate looting trial

Brooke Astor’s son Anthony Marshall kissed his mother ‘not often’
Melissa Grace/Corky Siemaszko
May 26, 2009
New York Daily News
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/05/26/2009-05-26_brooke_astors_son_anthony_marshall_kissed_his_mother_not_often.html

Brooke Astor’s son rarely smooched his mother.

“Their relationship seemed distant and cool, but respectful,” Astor’s physical therapist, Sandra Foschi, testified Tuesday at the fraud trial of Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall.

When Marshall visited with his wife, Charlene, “sometimes (Astor) would respond, sometimes she’d hang her head down,” said Foschi, who was hired in March 2004 to help socialite, then 102, after she broke her hip.

Asked how often Marshall kissed his mom, Foschi answered, “Not often.”

By contrast, Astor had a “very warm relationship” with her grandson, Philip Marshall, who read her poetry, said Foschi.

“She really seemed to enjoy those visits with him,” she testified. “She physically leaned into him as if she were relaxing … She’d smile, her eyes were open.”

Marshall, 84, and his lawyer pal Francis Morrissey, 66, are accused of taking advantage of a senile Astor to plunder her $185 million fortune – charges levelled after Astor’s grandson claimed the dowager was living in squalor.

Foschi, who also has worked with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, said Astor was reduced to being fed pureed food when she started treating her. She said Astor could not stand on her own and “would not be able to follow” instructions.

Astor’s handwriting was “very shaky, trembling,” the therapist added.

Foschi took the stand ahead of what’s likely to be one of the biggest witnesses for the prosecution, attorney Henry Christensen.

Prosecutors contend Marshall fired Christensen as Astor’s estate lawyer in early 2004 to get his hands on his mother’s loot – a charge Marshall denies.

Christensen drew up Astor’s 2002 will and a first update in December 2003, which gave Marshall the power to direct $30 million from Vincent Astor Fund to charities of his choice.

Prosecutors say Christensen balked at more changes, including a January 2004 update that gave Marshall $60 million outright from Astor’s personal fortune.

While Christensen, 64, will help their case, prosecutors will have to walk a tightrope with him because the first change was made just weeks before the second.

Marshall’s lawyers claim it wouldn’t have been possible for Astor to be competent in late December and incompetent in late January.

In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Loewy admitted Christensen acted improperly.

Instead of dropping one lucrative client to clear up a conflict of interest, Christensen represented both Astor and her son in the years before she died at age 105 in 2007.

“Henry Christensen failed to protect Brooke Astor’s interests,” Loewy told the jury. “Instead, he gave in to defendant Marshall’s demands.”

For their part, defense lawyers accuse prosecutors of “trashing” their own witness and contend that Astor, who was in the habit of changing her will, knew what she was doing.

Christensen, who lives in Brooklyn, is not charged with a crime.

Fired lawyer to blast Anthony Marshall as Astor fraud trial resumes
Melissa Grace
May 26, 2009
New York Daily News
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/05/26/2009-05-26_fired_lawyer_to_blast_tony_hell_testify_brookes_son_demanded_changes_to_will.html
After weeks of celebrity testimony about how Brooke Astor had lost her mind, prosecutors will cut to the chase in her son’s fraud trial Tuesday with a lawyer who says he was fired because he balked at changing her will.

Prosecutors contend Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, abruptly fired Henry Christensen as Astor’s estate lawyer in early 2004 so Marshall could change her will to make himself $60 million richer.

The late changes were made when the beloved philanthropist – then 102 – was no longer competent, prosecutors say, and four years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Prosecutors used Astor’s glitzy friends, including TV personality Barbara Walters and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to set up their theory she was senile.

Christensen’s testimony will delve into how authorities say Marshall and co-defendant Francis Morrissey looted her $185million fortune.

Christensen, who began working for Astor in the early 1990s, will offer insight into what Astor wished to do with her money.

Christensen drew up Astor’s 2002 will and a first update in December 2003, which he pointedly labeled the “first and final” change. It hiked Marshall’s annual income.

Prosecutors say the lawyer balked atmore changes, including a January 2004 update that gave Marshall $60million, on the ground that Astor was too old and infirm.

While Christensen, 64, will help their case, prosecutors will have to walk a tightrope with him because the first change was made just weeks before the second.

Marshall’s lawyers claim it wouldn’t have been possible for Astor to be competent in late December and incompetent in late January.

In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Loewy admitted Christensen acted improperly.

Instead of dropping one lucrative client to clear up a conflict of interest, Christensen represented both Astor and her son in the years before she died at age 105 in 2007.

“Henry Christensen failed to protect Brooke Astor’s interests,” Loewy told the jury. “Instead, he gave in to defendant Marshall’s demands.”

For their part, defense lawyers accuse prosecutors of “trashing” their own witness and being willing to throw Christensen “under the bus” to make their case.

Christensen, who lives in Brooklyn, is not charged with a crime.

Prosecutors also will call trust and estates lawyer Warren Whitaker to the stand. Marshall and Morrissey hired him to draft updates to Astor’s will to redirect cash their way.

Prosecutors say Whitaker never met or spoke with Astor to ensure the amendments he drafted were what she wanted.

Defense lawyers contend that Astor, who repeatedly changed her will, knew what she was doing.

Baba’s Sad “View” of Ailing Brooke
Laura Italiano
May 22, 2009
New York Post
http://www.nypost.com/seven/05222009/news/regionalnews/babas_sad_view_of_ailing_brooke_170474.htm
She snapped at a defense lawyer, nearly cried over a photograph and cordially braved an icy stare from the dreaded Charlene.

Barbara Walters had an emotion-packed afternoon yesterday in a Manhattan courtroom, where she had come — looking fabulous in a vintage Bill Blass dress suit — to the monthlong Astor swindle trial to tell jurors about her dear friend Brooke.

Walters was, in turns, gracious, warm, combative and near-weepy, but always in charge — like on her TV show, “The View,” only under oath and in less comfortable seating — as she helped build the prosecution’s case against Brooke Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall.

Prosecutors say that as Astor hit age 100 in 2002, Marshall began taking advantage of her rampaging Alzheimer’s, strong-arming her out of more than $60 million in paintings and bequests for him and his greedy younger wife, Charlene — a woman Astor referred to among friends as “that bitch.”

Walter’s purpose on the stand was to discredit defense claims that Astor was mentally competent when she signed away her fortune.

“I haven’t seen this until today,” the ABC News correspondent and talk-show host told jurors, getting choked up as prosecutors showed jurors a photo from Dec. 29, 2002. The picture showed Walters embracing a frail and weakened Astor.

“So I’m a little affected by it,” Walters said, struggling to keep her composure.

The date is significant. A week before, Astor signed changes in her will giving Marshall control over $30 million in charitable funds — money she had slated for the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum and other city charities close to her heart. Then, not two weeks later, Astor signed another set of will changes, these granting Marshall — and, after his death, Charlene — outright control of $60 million in money she had slated for charity.

But Astor was on that very date so in the throes of dementia, she didn’t even recognize Walters, whom she had known, dined with and vacationed with since the 1960s, the TV star told jurors.

“I know Brooke didn’t know me,” Walters recounted in devastating testimony. “I said, ‘Brooke? It’s Barbara.’ ” Asked what Astor responded, Walters said: “I didn’t understand what she said. It was garbled . . . I just knew she had no idea who I was.”

Defense lawyers tried to hammer Walters hard on that point. Marshall defense lawyer Frederick Hafetz asked if Walters knew for a fact whether Astor was experiencing dementia or merely feeling out of sorts. “I don’t know,” Walters conceded.

Then another defense lawyer — Thomas Puccio, who represents Marshall’s co-defendant, estates lawyer Francis Morrissey — tried to portray Walters as a fair-weather friend.

“And for whatever reason, you didn’t see her again until she died?” nearly five years later, he goaded.

“I wasn’t bringing her any pleasure. And it was painful,” Walters replied.

That lawyer had gotten off on the wrong foot with Walters anyway — asking her, first question out of the box, “Any chance Ms. Loewy is going to be on ‘The View’ next week?” — that being prosecutor Elizabeth Loewy, who had conducted the direct examination.

“Did you ask me if she is going to be on ‘The View?’ ” Walters said, angrily. “Are we serious? No.”

On the sidewalk outside court, Walters ran smack into both Anthony and Charlene Marshall. They all looked at one another.

Anthony smiled. Babs smiled. Charlene glared.

Yesterday was celebrity day in the midst of the seemingly endless trial — with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also taking the stand to describe his good friend Brooke’s descent into dementia.

At a January 2002 dinner party Astor was throwing in honor of her good friend, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Kissinger said she asked, “Who is the black fellow who is sitting on the other side of me?” referring to Annan.

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