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Robert Morgenthau, Manhattan's longest-serving district attorney, dies at 99

By
Darryl Coote
Robert M. Morgenthau, former district attorney for New York County, died Sunday at the Lenox Hill Hospital after a short battle with an illness. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI Robert Morgenthau died Sunday at the L. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)
Robert M. Morgenthau, former district attorney for New York County, died Sunday at the Lenox Hill Hospital after a short battle with an illness. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI Robert Morgenthau died Sunday at the L. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch) | License Photo

July 22 (UPI) -- Robert Morgenthau, New York County's district attorney for over 30 years, died at the age of 99, his wife said.

A week shy of his 100th birthday, Morgenthau died at 11:25 p.m. Sunday at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side following an illness, his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucinda Franks Morgenthau, told the New York Daily News.

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"He died like he lived, which was he was in it for the long haul," she said. "He never gave up, whether it was prosecuting mobsters or white-collar criminals or drug lords. He never gave up."

The always humble Morgenthau holds the title of Manhattan's longest-serving district attorney, taking up the office in 1975 and only setting it down at the age of 89 in 2009 after nine terms.

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The man known for being feared in the courtroom by mobsters and Wall Street, Morgenthau began his career in 1961, when he was appointed to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York by President John F. Kennedy.

His wife said Morgenthau credited others for the successes he achieved during his career, stating he claimed to be "just the frontman."

"He said 'I was just a helmsman," she said. "Everybody else did the work."

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Morgenthau made a name for himself by going after corrupt politicians, the mob and devious banks that saw him garner the support of both political parties.

In one of his final cases, Morgenthau got Credit Suisse to forfeit some $536 million for violating financial sanctions regulating dealings with Iran.

While the U.S. Treasury Department only wanted to slap the international bank with civil penalties, Morgenthau threatened criminal charges.

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The bank, which had been stonewalling the U.S. government, only agreed to pay up once he threatened jail time.

He then left his post as New York's top prosecutor four days later.

During his some 35 years as New York's chief prosecutor, his office oversaw 3.5 million cases, including prosecuting mob boss John Gotti, former Sao Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf and Mark Chapman, the man who killed The Beatles' frontman, John Lennon.

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New York Police Commissioner James O'Neil said no one did more than Morgenthau for the public's good, calling him New York City's "most innovative prosecutor."

"His vigorous prosecutions helped push the murder rate down 90 percent during his 35 years in office, which made our great city safer for all," he said on Twitter.

He is survived by his wife and seven children.

Notable deaths of 2019

Jerry Herman
Jerry Herman listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama as the president and First Lady Michelle Obama host the 2010 Kennedy Center Honorees at a reception in the East Room of the White House on December 5, 2010. The Tony-award winning composer died on December 26, 2019, at the age of 88. File Pool Photo by Gary Fabiano/UPI | License Photo

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