Friday, March 7, 2014
By JENNIFER PELTZ / The Associated Press
NEW YORK — A story of wealth, family and the indignities of aging culminated Friday with an 89-year-old heir to one of America's first mega-fortunes being taken to prison in a wheelchair.
Anthony Marshall, 89, the son of deceased philanthropist Brooke Astor, is kissed by his wife, Charlene, as he arrives with his attorneys in a New York court on Friday.
The Associated Press
The late Brooke Astor, who spent summers in Northeast Harbor.
The Associated Press
Almost seven years after a family feud over the treatment of philanthropist Brooke Astor erupted into public view, her son, Anthony Marshall, started serving a one- to three-year prison term for his conviction on charges of taking advantage of his aged mother's slipping mind to loot her millions.
Astor was a summer resident of Northeast Harbor, Maine.
Marshall's incarceration, which appeals had delayed for more than 3½ years, was a subdued but climactic chapter in the saga of a society doyenne eroded by Alzheimer's disease, the privileged scion who earned a Purple Heart but not always his mother's approval, the wife he worried about providing for, and the grandsons who testified against their own father. As Marshall sat, looking quietly downward, in his wheelchair in sweatpants and slippers, the judge who sent him to prison said he did so unhappily.
"I take no pleasure in following my duties," said Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley, who had sentenced Marshall to the minimum for his conviction.
According to New York Times reports during Marshall's trial, prosecutors accused him of stealing from his mother to appease his wife, Charlene, whom Astor despised.
The couple met in Northeast Harbor when Charlene Marshall was married to the Rev. Paul Gilbert, who was the pastor of a local church, St. Mary's by the Sea.
The Marshalls own several properties in town, including the $2.8 million estate known as Cove End, where Astor spent her summers, according to Mount Desert Island's assessing records.
The Maine Community Foundation was one of the beneficiaries named in Astor's will.
Marshall declined to speak during the brief proceeding, which came after he lost a series of bids to get a new trial or to get his prison term nixed because of his failing health. But one of the sons who had taken the witness stand against him pleaded in a letter to the court that Marshall be spared prison, pointing to his military service and saying the trial and aftermath were punishment enough.
"I am very concerned about his future," son Alec Marshall said in a section Bartley read aloud. "... My father once said, about the events that happened before the case, that 'you can't change the past.' "
But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Marshall's imprisonment represented long-awaited justice for Astor and a clarion call about the financial exploitation that can befall older people.
"I believe that the legacy of this prosecution will be that it raised public awareness of the silent epidemic of elder abuse," Vance said in a statement.
The case cast the subject in the rarefied setting of Manhattan's Park Avenue, featuring such Astor friends as Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters as witnesses.
Astor was a fashionable fixture of New York society before she died in 2007 at 105, and her charitable largesse was recognized in 1998 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's top civilian honor. She had inherited the money from her third husband, Vincent Astor, a descendant of real estate and fur baron John Jacob Astor, one of the nation's first multimillionaires.
Marshall, who was wounded while leading a Marine platoon in the battle of Iwo Jima, later became a U.S. ambassador and Broadway producer. He was Astor's son from her first marriage, and the trial portrayed a fraught relationship between son and mother. She once told a friend, "I wish Tony had made something of himself instead of waiting for the money."
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Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor's son, center, exits court in Manhattan with wife Charlene in 2009.
2009 Associated Press File Photo