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Boston jury awards crime writer Patricia Cornwell $51 million

By Daniel Lovering

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell and her spouse won nearly $51 million in a federal lawsuit against their former accounting and business management firm, their attorney said on Wednesday.

Cornwell and her spouse, Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist, who live in Boston, filed the suit in 2009 against Anchin, Block & Anchin, accusing the firm of negligence in performing professional services, breach of fiduciary duty and other fiscal shenanigans.

The New York-based firm had controlled Cornwell's business affairs and investments, including check-writing, for more than four years when she discovered in July 2009 that her net worth was less than $10 million, despite having earned an amount in the high eight figures during that period, according to court records.

She and Gruber also learned the company had borrowed several million dollars on their behalf in the form of mortgages for property and a loan for the purchase of a helicopter, court documents said.

During the jury trial, which began early last month in U.S. District Court in Boston, the firm's attorneys argued that the couple's losses were due to extravagant spending and the effects of the economic downturn, according to local media reports.

But the jury agreed with Cornwell and Gruber on Tuesday, awarding them about $50.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

"We're extremely pleased with the outcome and think that the process worked well," said Joan Lukey, the couple's attorney.

In a statement, Frank Schettino, managing partner of Anchin, said the firm was disappointed with the outcome, but would endure nonetheless.

"In the days ahead we will be exploring our legal options," including an appeal, he said.

Cornwell, 56, is known for her crime novels featuring Kay Scarpetta, a fictitious medical examiner.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Gevirtz)