High-profile Astor case could lead to more prosecutions of financial elder abuse

The criminal conviction this past October of the son of New York society matron Brooke Astor on charges of taking advantage of her while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease could lead to more prosecutions for financial abuse of the elderly…and this includes ordinary families, not just wealthy socialites.

As many as a million older people are taken advantage of financially each year, according to a study by MetLife. In most cases, the culprits are family members or caregivers.

Often, family members begin by “borrowing” small amounts of money, and may fully intend to pay it back. But over time it becomes a bad habit. Although the amount at issue is usually much smaller than the millions of dollars involved in the Astor case, these actions can still amount to criminal theft or fraud.

In the past, law enforcement officials have often been reluctant to prosecute such crimes, because they consider them too difficult to prove in court and too complex for juries to understand. But the high-profile conviction in the Astor case is likely to make prosecutors focus more attention on this type of wrongdoing.

Brooke Astor died at age 105 and left an estate worth about $180 million. Her son, Anthony Marshall, was accused of manipulating her after she became mentally incompetent due to Alzheimer’s, in order to increase his share of her estate and to pay himself inordinately large sums of money for acting as her manager.

Marshall was convicted on 14 counts, including a charge of grand larceny after he used his power of attorney to give himself a $1 million retroactive raise for acting as his mother’s financial advisor.

Under New York law, Marshall’s crimes are subject to a sentence of up to 25 years in jail.

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