Opening statements are scheduled to begin today in the criminal trial of Anthony Marshall, the son of the late New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, who is accused of stealing millions of dollars from his ailing mother.
Marshall, now 84, has been accused of manipulating Astor during the last years of her life, when she suffered from Alzheimer's disease, changing her will to give himself millions of dollars from one of New York City's great family fortunes. Francis Morrissey, 67, an estate planning lawyer, has also been charged with fraud and forgery.
Astor, once the grande dame of New York high society, who charmed heads of state and donated tens of millions of dollars to the city's libraries and museums, died in 2007 when she was 105 years old.
Filled with allegations of greed and excess, the trial promises to expose the inner feuds of the famed Astor clan. Astor's late husband, Vincent, was the descendant of 19th-century tycoon John Jacob Astor. The trial is expected to focus on Brooke Astor's mental state in the last years of her life, when the changes to her will were made, and will likely detail the sad decline of one of the city's most celebrated philanthropists.
"If she were alive she would be mortified that her name has been dragged into this," said Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation, who befriended Astor when he was the head of the New York Public Library, one of her favorite charitable causes.
"She set the standard for everybody, about philanthropy, about generosity, about kindness," he said. "She was the last of a classy generation of people."
Marshall, a former ambassador and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, has pleaded not guilty to charges including grand larceny and conspiracy. Morrissey is accused of, among other things, forgery for allegedly faking Astor's signature on an amendment to her will. He has also pleaded not guilty.
The potential witnesses include the bold face names who made up Astor's circle of friends: Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state; Kofi Annan, the former head of the United Nations; David Rockefeller; and Annette de la Renta, the wife of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
"I think everybody's shocked. I don't think anyone thought it would ever come to this," said Meryl Gordon, author of the book "Mrs. Astor Regrets," who is covering the case for Vanity Fair magazine. "When this all started, it wasn't meant to be a criminal case."
The criminal case was sparked when Astor's grandson, Philip Marshall, went to court in 2006, accusing his father of neglecting his grandmother and skimping on her care so much that she slept in tattered nightgowns on a dog-urine-soaked sofa. Philip Marshall asked to have his father removed as Astor's legal guardian. A judge awarded guardianship to Annette de la Renta in 2006.
Marshall was indicted the following year. Philip Marshall declined to comment. Through his lawyer, Anthony Marshall also declined to comment.
Astor's alleged living conditions, as described in Philip Marshall's lawsuit, were a dramatic fall for the wife of Vincent Astor, a real estate mogul and the son of John Jacob Astor IV, who was on the Titanic. According to a 2006 court decision, Brooke Astor inherited more than $120 million when her husband died in 1959 and gave away more than $200 million to various charities.