Robert M. Morgenthau, New York’s longest-serving district attorney, who fought crime in executive suites and violence on city streets for 35 years, has died. He was 99.

Morgenthau’s wife, Lucinda Franks, said he died at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York on Sunday after a short illness, the New York Times reported.

First elected as Manhattan district attorney in 1974, Morgenthau won eight more four-year terms before retiring in 2009. He was known as a tireless prosecutor of white-collar crime, his targets ranging from L. Dennis Kozlowski, ex-chief executive of Tyco International Ltd., to money-laundering banks and mobsters in the garbage and garment industries.

“If you want people to have confidence in their government, you’ve got to show that people who have economic power or political power are not immune from prosecution,” Morgenthau said.

He oversaw some of New York’s most sensational cases, including the murder of John Lennon in 1980. The investigation and prosecution of the so-called Central Park jogger assault, a 1989 sexual attack, led to the imprisonment of five young men; in 2002, he ordered their release after DNA evidence linked a convicted murderer to the attack.

“Morgenthau’s unimpeachable integrity, unflinching courage, unyielding independence, and fierce devotion to equal justice under the law set the gold standard for distinguished public service across the nation,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement. “His incredible tenure as district attorney sparked a paradigm shift among his prosecutorial peers that emphasized proactive strategies, diverse hires, and increased community engagement.”

Morgenthau was an outspoken foe of the 1995 state law that reinstated capital punishment in New York. He never sought the death penalty in any case, and after the law was overturned on a technicality, he said, “The death penalty exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency.”

Corporate Crime
He began confronting corporate crime in the 1960s, when he was the U.S. attorney in New York. He brought high-profile federal cases for a decade against executives who had never faced public humiliation.

“He really is the father of white-collar criminal prosecutions,” said Gary Naftalis, a lawyer who worked under Morgenthau as an assistant U.S. attorney.

As district attorney, Morgenthau rarely handled a case himself. He delegated prosecutions to key aides in his office of 500 lawyers and kept abreast of legal issues through a vast network of judges and lawyers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was among his assistant district attorneys, as was Eliot Spitzer before eventually becoming governor and resigning his post in a sex scandal.

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