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.
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.
Marshall’s incarceration, which appeals had delayed for more than 3 1/2 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 Kirke Bartley, who sentenced Marshall to the minimum.
But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said the imprisonment represented long-awaited justice for Astor and a clarion call about the financial exploitation of 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 an elite 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. 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 later became a U.S. ambassador, 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.”
Marshall, who turned 89 last month, will be the fourth oldest inmate in New York state prisons. The oldest is 93 and was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison in 2010.