Few things are as juicy as a high-profile trial involving wealthy celebrities, millions of dollars and accusations of dastardly deeds.
So it’s no wonder that Boston is all atwitter about an ongoing trial involving Patricia Cornwell, the hugely successful author, who’s alleging her financial management firm bilked her out of millions of bucks.
If you’re a mystery lover, you’re surely familiar with Cornwell’s books about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner who just happens to be able to solve virtually any crime, no matter how complex.
Cornwell, who’s zealously guarded her privacy over the years, has sold more than a hundred million books during a career that has seen her go from being a mortuary assistant and onetime newspaper reporter to a world-famous scribe.
Now her veil of secrecy is being pulled back as she sues her former financial management firm, Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, charging the company with breach of contract and negligence. She’s also suing Evan Snapper, a former principal in the firm.
Cornwell, who makes $10 million or more a year from her books, says she discovered in 2009 that despite her huge income over many years, she discovered she was worth “only $13 million.”
She says Anchin lost millions on risky investments, didn’t account for the money from the sale of a Ferrari she owned and committed a host of other improprieties which diminished her wealth.
A lawyer for the company said on the trial’s opening day earlier this week that Cornwell has nobody to blame but herself.
“Where did the money go?” Anchin attorney James Campbell asked the jury. “Ms. Cornwell ... spent it. You have to consider the large lifestyles involved, the spending habits, impulsive buying.”
The trial is expected to last a month -- you and I will be paying for it, of course -- and stands to be as riveting as one of Cornwell’s best-sellers.
The author acknowledges her bipolar disorder, which she says has led her to believe she must have others manage her affairs.
Coming into play in the courtroom will be spending habits that would be considered outsized by almost any standard -- a $40,000-a-month apartment in New York’s Trump Tower, exotic automobiles, millions in fees for private jets and helicopters, and huge amounts spent for property in Massachusetts.
Anchin counters that there’s no money missing and that any investment losses were caused by adverse economic conditions and not poor management.
The firm is also defending its fees; it charged Cornwell, 56, a monthly retainer of $40,000 for its services, and then billed her on an hourly basis beyond that. An Anchin attorney said the fees were justified because she was a “demanding” client.
Adding to the intrigue is Cornwell’s penchant for privacy, though this is not the first time parts of her personal life have been aired in public.
In the early 1990s, she had an affair with Margo Bennett, a married FBI agent, which was revealed years later after the agent’s estranged husband was convicted of trying to kill his wife.
Cornwell’s now married to Dr. Staci Gruber, a Harvard neuroscientist who’s pictured as her accomplice in wild spending habits.
The writer says Anchin’s actions have so unnerved her that she missed a book deadline for the first time in her career, and her lawyer says damages could amount to $100 million or more.
So there you have it: a story that some might say could only have been conceived as a mystery plotline.
But in this case, it’s all real, and it’s unfolding as we speak.
And that, as you might have surmised, is almost stranger than fiction.
(Facts used in this column were gleaned from reports in other newspapers.)