Criminal Probe of Reclusive Heiress's Finances

By Bill Dedman
|  Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010  |  Updated 3:28 PM PDT
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NYC Launches Criminal Probe of Reclusive Heiress's Finances

AP

Taken in 1930, about the time of her divorce, this is the last known photo of Huguette Clark.

The Manhattan district attorney has launched a criminal investigation into the finances of Huguette Clark, the reclusive 104-year-old heiress with three empty mansions, who was profiled in a series of articles on MSNBC.com.

The inquiry is being conducted by the Elder Abuse Unit of the New York County District Attorney's Office, which investigated the finances of Brooke Astor, the society matron and heiress whose son and attorney were convicted in 2009 of siphoning $10 million from her. Astor died in 2007 at age 105, with an estate worth $131 million.

Huguette Clark's wealth is said to be roughly four times Astor's, or about half a billion dollars. Clark has no children. It's not known whether she has signed a will. She has lived in New York City hospitals for at least 22 years.

New York City detectives assigned to the office of DA Cyrus Vance Jr. are investigating the Clark case, including the actions of attorney Wallace "Wally" Bock and accountant Irving H. Kamsler, who control Huguette Clark's wealth and access to her hospital room.

A spokeswoman for Vance, Erin Duggan, said the office has a policy of not confirming whether an investigation is being conducted. Msnbc.com confirmed independently that detectives are making inquiries.

MSNBC.com reported last week that Clark's attorney and accountant became the owners of the New York City apartment of another elderly client after his last will and testament was revised six times. The accountant, Kamsler, has a criminal conviction for sending pornography to underage girls in an AOL chat room, according to court records. The attorney, Bock, arranged to sell quietly Clark's Stradivarius violin for $6 million and a Renoir painting for $23.5 million.

Clark's assets include more than $200 million in three unoccupied luxury homes:

• A $100 million Pacific cliffside estate on 23 acres in Santa Barbara, Calif. She hasn't visited it in at least 50 years.

• A country house on 52 acres in New Canaan, Conn., on the market now for $24 million. She expanded the house in 1952 but never moved in.

• A massive apartment in New York City, 907 Fifth Ave. at 72nd Street, the largest apartment on that storied avenue overlooking Central Park. Her 42 rooms on two floors occupy 15,000 square feet. A real estate agent who has sold apartments in that building values Clark's at roughly $100 million. She hasn't been seen here in about 22 years. 

In a series of stories since February, MSNBC.com has reported that Huguette Clark has lived alone, secluding herself in her home with her French dolls and dollhouses for the past half century, and has been in hospital rooms in New York City, though her health was said to be good.

The series of articles on msnbc.com also disclosed:

• Clark's attorney, 78-year-old Bock, arranged to sell the $6 million Stradivarius violin that her mother gave her for her 50th birthday, according to the dealer who handled the sale. The buyer signed a confidentiality agreement when Clark was 95 years old, agreeing not to disclose who sold the violin for at least 10 years.

• Her accountant, 63-year-old Kamsler, pleaded guilty in 2008 to sending pornography to underage girls in an AOL chat room, according to court records. He was using the AOL handle IRV1040 (as in his first name, Irving, and the IRS 1040 tax form). He also, like his client Huguette Clark, had a federal tax lien for unpaid taxes.

• The attorney and accountant became owners of property that was signed over to them by another elderly client in New York City, according to court records. The man, who was attorney Bock's law partner, suffered from dementia in his later years, according to his goddaughter and neighbors. Before he died, he signed over to Bock and Kamsler his New York apartment in the Dorchester, at 57th Street near Park Avenue, as well as his Mercedes and $200,000 — in addition to the $380,000 in fees they collected for managing his $4 million estate.

• Bock and Kamsler arranged to sell Clark's Renoir in 2003 for $23.5 million, and her country home in New Canaan, Conn., is on the market for $24 million.

• Access to her is tightly controlled. Relatives who tried to visit her New York hospital room have been turned away by the attorney, though one persistent half-great-niece got as far as the room where Clark was asleep. (We are not revealing the name of the hospital.)

• The accountant is said to visit regularly. The attorney told msnbc.com in January that he speaks with her frequently by phone and has met her only twice — the first of her seven attorneys to meet her face to face.

Bock and Kamsler have declined to answer questions about any of their actions.

A famous father
Huguette ("hue-GET") Marcelle Clark is the last surviving child of William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), a copper miner and United States senator who in his time was said to be neck and neck with John D. Rockefeller for the title, richest American.

Clark made a fortune in Montana copper, banks and railroads, collected a museum full of art from Europe, and owned the land that would become Las Vegas, where Clark County is named for him.William Andrews Clark was caught in a bribery scandal during a campaign for the U.S. Senate — he was said to describe the Montana legislators this way: "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

Though the Senate refused to seat him, he was re-elected and served one term, from 1901 to 1907, as a Democrat from Montana. During that term the widower Clark announced that he had secretly been married in Paris and had a child with his former ward, Anna, 39 years his junior. ("THEY'RE MARRIED AND HAVE A BABY," thundered one headline.) A second daughter, Huguette, was born in 1906. Her sister died at age 16, leaving her the only surviving child of this second marriage.

When Sen. Clark died in 1925, he left a gaudy 121-room house then at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street, and a fortune divided among Anna, Huguette and four adult children from his first marriage. Anna died in 1963, leaving her share to Huguette.

Huguette Clark is said by relatives to be quite alert, or was the last time anyone besides her attorney and accountant was able to speak with her by phone, some years back.

The district attorney's office has put greater emphasis on investigating and preventing crimes against the elderly since Vance, son of the former U.S. secretary of state, took office in January. The Elder Abuse Unit has been expanded under the direction of experienced prosecutor Elizabeth Loewy, who headed the Astor case.

Separate civil action
Aside from a criminal investigation, which could take months, an attorney who worked on the Brooke Astor case said anyone could go to court to file a guardianship petition, asking a court to appoint someone to handle her affairs. It would normally be a relative or friend or financial institution, but anyone could go to court.

"Actually, anyone has standing," said the attorney, Susan Robbins, meaning anyone can go before the court, without needing to have a personal stake in the matter. Robbins was the court-appointed attorney for Astor.

 In addition, anyone who is concerned about the financial or physical well-being of an elderly person, even if that person doesn't have direct evidence of wrongdoing, can contact Adult Protective Services in New York City. More than a dozen readers told msnbc.com that they made referrals to Adult Protective Services after reading last week's articles.

A previous client
Clark's attorney, Bock, drew up the wills for one of his law partners, Donald Wallace, who died in 2002 at age 76. Wallace's will — the sixth one drawn up by Bock — left his apartment to Bock and Kamsler, gave each man $100,000 and left Kamsler his Mercedes sedan. Though the co-op board refused to hand over the apartment to the two men, a change to Wallace's will left it to the attorney and accountant. In his final days, when according to his goddaughter and a neighbor he had severe dementia, Wallace was subletting his own apartment from his attorney and accountant, according to probate records in the Surrogate's Court in New York City. (You can read the documents in this PDF file.)

Bock wrote in court documents, "At no time did I ever request or suggest, directly or by implication, to DLW that he provide for me in his will," referring to Donald L. Wallace. "On the contrary, I said to him that he was being overly generous, that he had done enough for me with various gifts given over the years. He insisted however, stating that the people he named as beneficiaries in his Will were 'his family' and that is what he wanted to do."

The arrest
Her accountant, Kamsler, was arrested on Sept. 6, 2007, in Nassau County on Long Island, in an Internet sex sting. The indictment alleged that in 2005 and 2007 he had tried to entice 13- and 15-year-old girls in an AOL chatroom to meet with him, sending them pornography and describing touching their private areas. These girls turned out to be police officers. Police said Kamsler was using the AOL handle IRV1040 (as in his first name, Irving, and the IRS 1040 tax return).

Kamsler told police that he thought he was in an adult chatroom and was just "pretending" with women that they were girls. He pleaded guilty in October 2008 to all the charges: six counts of attempting to disseminate indecent material to minors in the first degree and nine counts of attempting to endanger the welfare of a child. He got no jail time, just five years of probation, a $5,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and sex-offender restrictions.

IRS difficulties
Property records in New York show Kamsler also had trouble with the IRS, with a tax lien in 2003 for $18,853, paid off three months later. Huguette Clark has had her own tax liens — four times the IRS has filed to collect taxes from her.

The Stradivarius
In 2001, Clark's Stradivarius violin was sold. It is one of the most famous, known as La Pucelle, or The Virgin, because its works were unopened for more than a century after it was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1709. Huguette Clark's mother, Anna Eugenia La Chappelle Clark, gave it to her for a 50th birthday present in 1956.

 The premier violin dealer Charles Beare described it as "almost certainly the finest Stradivari that's not in a museum and certainly the best-preserved."

The first draft of the confidentiality agreement proposed by Bock was so onerous, Beare said, that it would forbid the purchaser from revealing that he owned the violin, much less who he bought it from, or even the seller's gender. He could not play it in the presence of anyone, ever.

Beare said the buyer who paid $6 million, retired software developer David Fulton, balked at those terms but agreed to a 10-year-ban on revealing the previous owner. Fulton would not comment to msnbc.com, citing the confidentiality agreement, which runs until early 2011.

 The Renoir
In 2003, the year she turned 97, one of Huguette Clark's paintings was sold by Sotheby's for $23.5 million. Report at the time said the painting came from "the estate of Huguette Clark," though she was alive.

No comment
Neither Bock nor Kamsler would respond to questions about these incidents.

 Wallace Bock, in an interview early this year at the Lexington Avenue office of the law firm of Collier, Halpern, Newberg, Nolletti & Bock, would say only that Huguette was quite a beauty in her day, that he talks to her regularly on the phone and that her mind is clear though her eyesight and hearing have dimmed with age. He also said he would not pass on to her a request for an interview and that she doesn't care about publicity or reputation. He threatened to get a judge to stop msnbc.com from printing a word about his client.

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Additional reading
More links for "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery":

All of msnbc.com's reports on Huguette Clark are gathered here.

Part one of the investigative report, At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now

Part two, Who is watching Huguette's millions?

The photo narrative on Huguette Clark and her empty mansions

A PDF file for printing the photos

Notes and sources on the Clark family

Contact the author

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