Astor trial winds down

Prosecution blasts Anthony Marshall for ‘stealing’ from mom in Brooke Astor trial closing arguments
Melissa Grace/Corky Siemaszko
September 16, 2009
New York Daily News
“Two morally depraved individuals” – including her son – swindled socialite Brooke Astor of millions she wanted to use to help “ordinary New Yorkers,” a prosecutor charged Wednesday.

In his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann called Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall a thief who was driven by his wife’s greed to rob his senile mother.

There is disturbing evidence of “how a son, and an only son, stooped so low to steal from his mother in the sunset of her life in order to line his own pockets and of his wife,” Seidemann said.

Astor was “at death’s door” and “incapable of caring for herself” when Marshall enlisted his lawyer buddy Francis Morrissey in the scheme, the prosecutor said.

Marshall convinced the beloved philanthropist she was going broke so he could sell off her favorite painting for $10 million – and pay himself a $2 million commission, he said.

“I’ll call it an AIG bonus,” said Seidemann, invoking the name of the hated insurance giant that became synonymous with greed following revelations that the honchos responsible for $100 billion in losses were in line for $1 billion in bonuses.

“He saw Mrs. Astor as his personal piggy bank, his own ATM,” the prosecutor said of Marshall. “This is better than American Express.”

Seidemann’s broadsides came in the 19th week of the epic trial of Marshall and Morrissey – and after defense lawyers argued that Astor rewrote her wills to benefit her son out of love for him.

Marshall’s wife, Charlene, is not charged with a crime, though prosecutors have vilified her as a social climber who pushed her husband into ripping off his mother.

While Seidemann spoke, Charlene sat behind her husband and shook her head several times.

Astor began losing her mind in 1992. By 1995, she couldn’t recognize Jesse Jackson, the prosecutor said.

Marshall and Morrissey deny they plundered Astor’s $185 million fortune and insist the socialite was lucid when she rewrote her wills.

Among other things, the two are charged with conspiring to amend Astor’s will – long after doctors had diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s – so $66 million earmarked for charities was cut by half and the remainder wound up in Marshall’s pockets.

Morrissey, who is also charged with forgery, was to get a cut of that money.

The New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are among the city’s cultural gems that got shafted in Astor’s updated wills.

Prosecutor delivers closing arguments
Laura Italiano
September 16, 2009
New York Post
All he wants is money, money, money,” the wry and venerable Brooke Astor once complained of her only child, Anthony Marshall. “I wish he had made something of himself, instead of waiting for the money.”

In closing arguments in Manhattan Supreme Court this morning, prosecutors in the four-month-long Astor swindle case reminded jurors of those prophetic words from the beloved old philanthropist.

“Ladies and gentleman, this case is really about a man who could not wait for the money,” assistant district attorney Joel Seidemann told jurors.

“And about a mother who committed the unforgivable sin of living too long.”

Marshall’s 18 week ordeal at a courtroom defense table culminate today with day-long summations about a total 18-count indictment on conspiracy and grand larceny charges carrying a maximum 25 years prison.

In a nutshell, prosecutors say Marshall and a crooked estates lawyer — co-defendant Francis Morrissey — strong-armed the frail, failing, century-old woman into signing over to her son than $60 million in bequests, money long promised to city institutions.

Astor was “His own little ATM,” the prosecutor said.

This, at a time when Astor was forgetting the identity of longtime friends — even lovers — along with, on occasion, the identities of her own son and her own self.

“Who am I?” she’d asked, at age 99, as she stood naked and screaming on the stairwell of her beachfront summer home in Maine, in a horror scene described to jurors months ago by a maid.

Prosecutors say that by the time the Alzheimer’s-afflicted doyenne reached her 100th year, Marshall , then himself approaching 80, already stood to inherit some $23 million in money and property from “mother,” as he called her.

Mother was already paying him a $450,000 salary for managing her finances. Mother had bought him and his wife, Charlene, an E. 79th Street duplex — for which she also paid the monthly maintenance and parking bills.

But that was not enough, Seidemann told jurors, decrying what he called Marshall’s “insatiable greed–” even to the point of lifting quarter-million-dollar paintings off her walls, leaving behind only the nails.

“These defendants,two morally depraved individuals, preyed on a physically ill and mentally incapacitated 101-year-old woman,” the prosecutor said.

Making matters worse, Marshall was pinching pennies on his mother’s care — as if her care was paid for with his money, not hers — even as he lined his and Charlene’s pockets with ever-more millions.

Marshall fired beloved staffers, nixed nurses’ request for a stairwell safety gate, cancelled donations she’d already agreed to make, let the carpets in her Park Avenue duplex go uncleaned and substituted cheap bodega flowers for her former, pricey arrangements, according to prosecution testimony.

But he bought himself a yacht with one of his mother’s $1 million “gifts” to him.

“The yacht for $920,000? He wasn’t too frugal for that,” Seidemann argued. “But the sefety gate for two-grand? Not going to happen.”

Marshall, sitting somberly at the defense table, shook his head “No” at this point.

The trial shuts down for a day tomorrow, resuming Friday — in the morning only — for any remaining DA closings. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday.

Astor Trial Ending With Heated Words
John Eligon
September 16, 2009
The New York Times
The prosecution in the Astor trial began its closing argument on Wednesday with a blistering attack on the character of the two defendants.

Joel J. Seidemann, an assistant district attorney, told jurors that Brooke Astor’s son, Anthony D. Marshall, and Francis X. Morrissey Jr., an estate lawyer, took advantage of an Alzheimer’s-riddled Mrs. Astor out of greed.

“Each of these 70 witnesses provides a piece of the puzzle that adds up to one compelling and disturbing picture,” Mr. Seidemann said. “And that picture is that these defendants, two morally depraved individuals, preyed on a physically and mentally ill 101-year-old woman to steal millions of dollars — dollars that she had intended to go to help the lives of ordinary New Yorkers.”

Mr. Seidemann added that it was disturbing “how a son, an only son, would stoop so low as to steal from his own mother in the sunset years of her life in order to line his own pockets and the pockets of his wife.”

Mr. Seidemann’s fiery closing left Mr. Marshall shaking, and the strain showed on his face.

Mr. Marshall, 85, and Mr. Morrissey, 66, are accused of tricking Mrs. Astor into changing her will when she was 101 years old to funnel millions of dollars their way. The primary change at issue is an amendment, known as a codicil, that she executed on Jan. 12, 2004, that would give Mr. Marshall outright control of a $60 million portion of her estate after she died.

Mr. Seidemann attempted to show the jurors that that change was inconsistent with the life plan of Mrs. Astor, a giant in the social and philanthropic worlds of New York before she died two years ago at 105.

Mr. Marshall is also charged with grand larceny for selling his mother’s Childe Hassam painting for $10 million and keeping a $2 million commission on it. Prosecutors have also accused him of stealing for giving himself a pay increase and taking artworks from his mother’s Upper East Side apartment.

But Mr. Seidemann spent much of the morning painting Mr. Marshall as a greedy son who used his mother “as his own little piggy bank; as his own A.T.M.”

Before Mrs. Astor executed changes to her will that prosecutors say were procured through fraud, Mr. Marshall already stood to get $20 million to $23 million, Mr. Seidemann said. The changes increased that total to about $54 million, Mr. Seidemann said.

Mr. Seidemann recited a passage from an article that Mrs. Astor wrote for Vanity Fair in 2000 that read, “Hunger can be satisfied and greed never can.”

“That describes Tony Marshall and Charlene Marshall to a T,” Mr. Seidemann said, referring to Mr. Marshall’s wife, who prosecutors claim was the motivation behind Mr. Marshall squeezing his mother for money.

“This was a man who could not wait for the money,” Mr. Seidemann said. “He waited and waited with the undertaker’s shovel in hand for his mother to die.”

At this comment, Mr. Marshall perked up in his seat, pursed his bottom lip and began to shiver. As Mr. Seidemann continued, Mr. Marshall eventually twisted his body and leaned on a railing behind his chair.

Mr. Seidemann also presented a chart titled “The Two Sides of Tony Marshall,” which compared purchases he made for himself with cost-cutting measures for his mother. While Mr. Marshall consistently refused to buy a $2,000 safety gate to put in front of his mother’s staircase, Mr. Seidemann said, he bought a $920,000 yacht for himself.

“Money is no object where it satisfies Tony Marshall’s need,” Mr. Seidemann said. “Where it satisfies Brooke Astor’s need, then we become fiscally tight and we pinch that penny.”