updated 10/19/2007 6:45:01 PM ET 2007-10-19T22:45:01

A criminal investigation into financial maneuverings during socialite Brooke Astor's final years has halted the civil dispute over her $198 million estate, the state attorney general's office said Thursday.

The investigation, now before a Manhattan grand jury, concerns some of the same issues being examined in Westchester County Surrogate's Court in White Plains. Among them is whether Astor, the popular philanthropist who was 105 when she died in August, was competent to sign a will in 2002 that benefited her son at the expense of her favorite charities.

Jeffrey Lerner, a spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, said the Manhattan district attorney's office "believes it's in everyone's interest that the surrogate's matter not proceed further until the grand jury process is complete. We agree." The Manhattan district attorney's office would not discuss specifics of the Astor investigation.

The attorney general's office has a voice in the estate case as the official overseer of the state's charities. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library are among the charities listed in Astor's wills.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, said criminal cases generally take precedence over civil cases. "Generally you'd see a criminal matter proceed first," she said.

The judge in the estate case, Surrogate Judge Anthony Scarpino, on Wednesday bemoaned the fact that settlement talks had been stopped, saying the longer the case continues, the less money will be available for Astor's charities.

A failure to settle "is going to cost the charities a lot of money," he said.

Scarpino had no comment Thursday on the district attorney's actions, said his chief clerk, Charles Scott.

The principal issue in the estate case is which of two wills would best carry out Astor's intentions. Her son, Anthony Marshall, supports a 2002 will and codicils, or additions, which benefit him at the expense of the charities Astor named. Others, including her grandson, Philip Marshall, contend a 1997 will was the last one she was competent to sign.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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