Manhattan’s legendary district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau who dedicated decades to fighting white-collar crime has passed away at the age of 99.
Morgenthau was an esteemed fixture in New York court for over four decades where he made history as the longest-serving district attorney for nearly 35 years and served as chief federal prosecutor for Southern New York State for nine years.
The prosecutor and WWII Navy veteran passed away on Sunday in Manhattan.
He passed away at Lenox Hill Hospital succumbing to a short illness, according to his wife Lucinda Franks.
He made his legacy on fighting kingpins, mobsters, greedy corporate leaders, and corrupt politicians.
Manhattan’s longest-serving DA Robert M. Morgenthau passed on Sunday at the age of 99 after succumbing to a short illness at a Manhattan hospital, his family announced. Morgenthau pictured above in June 2016
Morgenthau was an esteemed fixture in New York court for over four decades where he made history as the longest-serving district attorney and served as chief federal prosecutor for Southern New York State. He hailed the Roosevelt’s and Kennedy’s as his friends – pictured above with President John F. Kennedy
He made his legacy on fighting kingpins, mobsters, greedy corporate leaders, and corrupt politicians. Pictured above second right with wife Lucinda along with actress Brenda King and actor Andrew Stein at a cocktail part in New York in June 1980
His devotion to fighting for justice inspired the Law & Order TV show character Adam Schiff, a fictional prosecutor played by actor Steve Hill. Law & Order creator Dick Wold praised Morgenthau as ‘the greatest attorney in the history of New York’.
In his stellar career he oversaw some 3.5million cases as DA and was often seen reiterating his motto that justice be pursued ‘without fear or favor’.
‘The prosecutor’s job is to protect the public and to administer the laws,’ he said on his job, stressing convictions should not be a prosecutor’s goal.
Some of his most high-profile cases include the subway vigilante Bernard Goetz, the Central Park ‘preppy killer’ Robert Chambers, and John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman, and suggesting the exoneration of the Central Park Five.
He believed that ‘crime in the suites’ was just as important as ‘crime in the streets’.
His cases went beyond New York borders too, cornering greedy companies and banks. In one case his investigation into the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991 exposed a massive criminal operation spanning 76 countries that laundered goods and money for Saddam Hussein, the Medellin drug cartel and terrorists, according to the New York Post.
In his various investigations he followed money trains in white-collar crimes to Paraguay, Iran, the Cayman Islands and Belgium.
Just two weeks before his retirement in 1991 he reached a stunning $536million settlement with Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, after it was revealed they helped Iranian, Libyan and Sudanese clients hide shady business in the US, according to the New York Times.
Robert Morgenthau and Donald Trump attend Police Athletic League Dinner Benefit on June 25, 1987 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City
Morgenthau is survived by his wife, Lucinda Franks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and his seven children from his first and second marriage
His devotion to fighting for justice inspired the Law & Order TV show character Adam Schiff (center), a fictional prosecutor played by actor Steve Hill. Law & Order creator Dick Wold praised Morgenthau as ‘the greatest attorney in the history of New York’
Born in July 31, 1919 in New York, he was raised in a family of wealth, prominence, and political connections hailing the Roosevelt’s and the Kennedy’s as family friends and spending New Years Eves at the White House.
His grandfather Henry Morgenthau Sr overcame poverty to become the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. His father Henry Morgenthau, Jr., became Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Treasury secretary and was a major architect of the famed New Deal.
After graduating from Amherst College, Morgenthau enlisted in the US Navy and served for four and a half years in World War II where he was deployed to the Mediterranean and Pacific from 1940 to 1945.
After the war he graduated from Yale law School and after 12 years of practicing corporate law he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
He served for nearly nine years in the 1960s as the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
After graduating from Amherst College, Morgenthau enlisted in the US Navy and served for four and a half years in World War II where he was deployed to the Mediterranean and Pacific from 1940 to 1945. Pictured above shining brass during training in the Navy Reserves in 1940
In his stellar career he oversaw some 3.5million cases as DA and was often seen reiterating his motto that justice be pursued ‘without fear or favor’. Pictured above in his New York office in the 1960s
However, his long career was not without criticism. He was often denounced for racial bias or police brutality and was criticized for being slow to respond to police corruption
After being re-elected to District Attorney of New York County seven times, he announced he would not seek re-election in 2009. Pictured above in 1988 with prosecutor Linda Fairstein during the high profile case of the Central Park Five
He left politics after he was forced out of the US Attorney office in 1969 but returned in 1974 elected to the office of District Attorney of New York County where he was re-elected seven times.
In 2009 he announced he would not seek re-election, after spending more than 35 years in the position.
Joking about his retirement he said, ‘I looked at my birth certificate, and I said, “It’s about time.”‘
However, his long career was not without criticism.
He was often denounced for racial bias or police brutality and was criticized for being slow to respond to police corruption, particularly one case in the 1980s where transit officers falsely arrested eight black men, who then sued and won $1million in damages.
In the famed Central Park Five case where five young black and Latino teenagers were coerced into giving false confessions to raping a 28-year-old woman jogging in Central Park in the 1980s, Morgenthau ordered a new investigation be opened in the case.
The investigation was opened after serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the crime – after the five had already served hard time.
Tributes have poured in four the esteemed DA who has left a legacy in the New York Justice system
That investigation led Morgenthau to recommend vacating the convictions and led to the five’s exoneration.
‘I think it was his finest hour,’ Barry Scheck, a founding director of the Innocence Project of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said. ‘Very few D.A.s would have done that, but he could with his stature, self-confidence, guts and commitment to principle. In that and other cases I’ve seen, I believe he has asked, “Is this the right thing to do?”‘
In his work he focused on the prosecution of career criminals, drug pushers, child pornographers, and perpetrators behind attacks on gay men and lesbians.
He leaves behind a legacy of politicians and prosecutors he personally interviewed and hired including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the late John F. Kennedy Jr and governors Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer.
Morgenthau is survived by his wife, Lucinda Franks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and his children of his first marriage, Jenny Morgenthau, Anne Morgenthau Grand, Elinor Morgenthau, Robert P. Morgenthau and Barbara Morgenthau Lee; the children of his second marriage, Joshua Franks Morgenthau and Amy Elinor Morgenthau; and by six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren