NEW YORK — Brooke Astor’s 85-year-old son was convicted Thursday of exploiting his philanthropist mother’s failing mind and helping himself to her nearly $200 million fortune.
Anthony Marshall now faces a mandatory jail sentence of at least one year — and perhaps as many as 25 years.
Jurors delivered their verdict on the 11th full day of deliberations, ending a five-month trial that revealed the New York society doyenne’s sad decline. She was 105 and had Alzheimer’s disease when she died in 2007.
The jury convicted Marshall of 14 counts, including first-degree grand larceny and scheming to defraud, but acquitted him on two charges, falsifying business records and another first-degree grand larceny count. His co-defendant, estate lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr., was convicted on all five charges, including scheming to defraud, conspiracy and forgery.
Marshall, wearing a dark suit, looked at the jurors as they were polled. Morrissey, 66, looked down but didn’t betray any emotion. They will remain free on bail until their Dec. 8 sentencing. Morrissey faces up to seven years in prison.
“I’m stunned by the verdict,” said Marshall’s attorney, Frederick Hafetz. “We are greatly disappointed in it, and we will definitely appeal.”
After the jury left the courtroom, Marshall’s wife, Charlene, stood at the rail with her hand on Marshall’s shoulder, her eyes glistening. When reporters asked her for a response, she said only, “I love my husband,” and gave him a brief hug. The couple walked out of the courthouse, hand in hand, to a waiting limousine.
The trial offered a peek into high society from Park Avenue to Palm Beach as prosecutors told a Dickensian tale of upper-crust money-grubbing with a deteriorating grande dame at its center.
The case put Astor’s famous friends, including Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger, on the witness stand and her dark final years on display. Jurors heard how a beau monde benefactor renowned for her elegance and wit became a disoriented invalid fearful of her own shadow.
Marshall “stole from his mother while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, making her life worse while enriching his own,” prosecutor Elizabeth Loewy said after the verdict.
Marshall was accused of a range of tactics — from scheming to inherit millions of dollars to simply stealing artwork off her walls. Morrissey was accused of helping manipulate a confused Astor into changing her will to leave Marshall millions of dollars that had been destined for charity.
Jurors left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
They rejected only the falsifying business records charge — it alleged that Marshall lied to an accountant about $757,000 he got from Astor — and a grand larceny count that concerned the $10 million sale of one of her favorite paintings. Prosecutors claimed Marshall misled his mother about the state of her finances so he could sell the artwork, Childe Hassam’s “Flags, Fifth Avenue.”
Astor’s last will, created Jan. 30, 2002, left millions of dollars to her favorite charities. Amendments in 2003 and 2004 gave Marshall most of her estate.
Prosecutors portrayed Marshall — a former U.S. ambassador and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer — as a greedy heir who couldn’t wait for his mother to die, buying himself a $920,000 yacht with her money but refusing to get a $2,000 safety gate to keep her from falling.
Defense lawyers said Astor was lucid when she bequeathed the money to her only child and that he had legal power to give himself gifts while she was alive. She was keenly focused on her will, and she loved her son, they said.
Morrissey, whose convictions include forging Astor’s signature on one of the changes to her will, declined to comment as he left the courthouse. Defense lawyer Thomas Puccio said Morrissey planned to appeal.
The trial delved into Astor’s shadowy mental state, health problems, finances and family relations. Jurors got crash courses in topics ranging from estate planning to handwriting analysis.
Prosecutors called some 72 witnesses. Many of them testified about Astor’s mental confusion in the last years of her life.
Walters described using a photo album to help Astor recall guests at her 100th birthday bash during a visit only months later. Kissinger testified that Astor didn’t recognize former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a party she threw for him in 2002.
Former Brown University President Vartan Gregorian recalled the normally decorous society dame making an awkward toast to Britain’s Camilla Parker Bowles in 1999.
But defense lawyer Hafetz pointed to episodes he said showed Astor was cogent at times, citing an impeccably spelled four-page letter she wrote to her close friend Annette de la Renta in November 2002.
Astor’s third husband, Vincent Astor, was the son of multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV. She took charge of her husband’s philanthropic work after his death in 1959. Her efforts won her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1998.
Marshall is her son from a previous marriage to stockbroker Charles “Buddie” Marshall, who died in 1952.
The criminal case against Marshall and Morrissey came after one of Astor’s grandsons asked a court to remove Marshall from handling her affairs.
Philip Marshall accused his father of abusing Astor by letting her live in squalor while he looted her fortune. Anthony Marshall denied the claims but agreed in October 2006 to step aside as his mother’s guardian.
De la Renta and longtime Astor friend David Rockefeller, who both backed the grandson’s allegations, responded to Thursday’s verdict by noting that they had tried to ensure Astor’s comfort toward the end of her life.
“Thankfully, that was accomplished,” they said through spokesman Fraser Seitel. “But the rest of the story was really very sad.”
A civil case concerning Astor’s will has been on hold while prosecutors pursued the criminal charges.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.