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Son gets 1-3 years for looting Astor fortune

Marshall, 85, stays free as lawyers appeal decision

Anthony Marshall, 85, son of the late New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, arrived at court yesterday for his sentence hearing. Anthony Marshall, 85, son of the late New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, arrived at court yesterday for his sentence hearing. (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images)
By Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press / December 22, 2009

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NEW YORK - The son of philanthropist Brooke Astor was sentenced yesterday to as many as three years in prison for exploiting her mental frailty to plunder her millions, but the legal saga surrounding the society doyenne’s fortune will persist with planned appeals.

Anthony Marshall, 85, showed little emotion as state Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley sentenced him to one to three years in prison, the minimum term his conviction required, for looting the fortune of his mother, who gave away nearly $200 million to institutions and charities before she died at age 105 in 2007.

Marshall will remain free for at least the next month as his defense lawyers try to persuade an appeals court to let him remain free on bail while his planned appeal plays out.

The judge noted Marshall’s World War II service and the possibility that the late Astor herself would have been aghast to see her son imprisoned, but he added that the law left him no choice but to impose a prison term.

“It is a paradox to me that such abundance has led to such incredible sadness,’’ Bartley said. He gave Marshall until Jan. 19 to provide his medical information to prison officials and otherwise prepare for life behind bars.

Marshall declined to speak at his sentencing, where prosecutors described him as an unrepentant thief who deserved punishment, while his lawyers strove to portray him as a dutiful son who believed his mother wanted him to have the money and items he was convicted of stealing.

Before leaving court, the stooped, unsteady Marshall sat for a minute on a bench in the courtroom audience, his tearful wife’s arm around his shoulders. He nearly stumbled over a pile of snow as he and his wife, Charlene, walked to a waiting car.

Co-defendant Francis X. Morrissey Jr., 67, an estates lawyer convicted of helping Marshall steal his mother’s money, was also sentenced yesterday to one to three years in prison. Morrissey is the son of the late Judge Francis X. Morrissey of Boston.

Like Marshall, Morrissey will remain free until Jan. 19 and is planning to appeal.

Under Marshall’s sentence, he generally would have to serve at least a year in prison before being eligible for parole. But he might be able to request parole earlier for medical reasons.

Marshall faced as many as 25 years in prison after being convicted of 14 counts, including grand larceny and scheming to defraud, for looting his mother’s nearly $200 million fortune. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease when she died.

In the final year of her life, the nasty family feud over her care was splashed all over the city’s tabloids, including allegations that she was forced to sleep in a torn nightgown on a couch that smelled of urine while subsisting on a diet of pureed peas and oatmeal. Those allegations were never substantiated.

Defense lawyers have said Marshall’s myriad illnesses would make any prison term a virtual death sentence.

Marshall’s Oct. 8 conviction followed a five-month trial in which Manhattan prosecutors painted him as an impatient heir who schemed to get his hands on his disoriented mother’s money, though she had already provided for him generously.

Prosecutors, who brought in such prominent Astor friends as Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger to help make their case, say Marshall manipulated Astor into changing her will.

“The defendant’s social standing shouldn’t put him above the herd,’’ Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann said. “He shouldn’t be treated as anything other than a common thief.’’

Defense lawyers say Marshall had the legal power to give himself gifts with his mother’s money, and she was lucid when she changed her will to benefit her only child. He consulted with attorneys throughout, they said.

“I think the fairest way to think about it is that there is a man who, maybe, felt entitled - and in hindsight felt too entitled - but he’s not somebody who simply stuck his hand in the cookie jar when no one was looking,’’ defense lawyer John R. Cuti said, arguing for leniency.