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Mary Mason's grandson balks at guilty plea in theft of $843K from radio icon

Calvin Steven Turner IV, 33, changed his mind at a hearing in Montgomery County Court at which he was expected to plead guilty. The defense says Mason, 87, gave her beloved grandson power of attorney. The judge said he'll set a jury trial.

Calvin S. Turner IV, grandson and heir of radio icon Mary Mason, is greeted by his mother, Carla James, outside Courtroom E in the Montgomery County Courthouse.
Calvin S. Turner IV, grandson and heir of radio icon Mary Mason, is greeted by his mother, Carla James, outside Courtroom E in the Montgomery County Courthouse.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT

In an eleventh-hour change of heart, the grandson and heir of legendary Philadelphia radio host Mary Mason balked at pleading guilty Thursday to charges he looted her estate of $843,000, leaving the infirm 87-year-old destitute.

Montgomery County Court Judge Garrett D. Page and the prosecutor had expected 33-year-old Calvin Steven Turner IV to plead guilty to at least some of the 306 counts charging him with theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, unlawful use of an electronic access device, and identity theft in the alleged theft of his grandmother's estate.

Instead, defense lawyer Martin P. Mullaney asked for a continuance to prepare for a jury trial on the charges against Turner.

The announcement touched off an acrimonious exchange between Mullaney and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Daniels.

Daniels said Mullaney was trying to delay the case, which was first scheduled for trial June 28. Thereafter, Mullaney said Turner would agree to a nonjury trial, which was scheduled first for Sept. 18, then postponed to Sept. 26, and again to Oct. 12. The case then was postponed until Thursday for what was supposed to have been a guilty plea without an agreement with the prosecutor about the sentence.

"This case has lingered five months, and it was only yesterday, or the day before, that [Mullaney] notifies me that there is newly discovered evidence out there," Daniels told the judge.

Mullaney called Daniels' comments "complete garbage" and said he had yet to receive from the prosecutor Mary Mason's checking-account records for auditing.

Daniels said he turned over the checking documents months ago with the prosecution's other evidence against Turner, adding, "I'll copy my whole file by hand and have it ready for Mr. Mullaney at our office's front desk."

Page cut off the exchange, telling the lawyers he would schedule a three-day jury trial at the earliest possible date.

Mullaney declined to comment after the hearing. So did Turner and his mother, Carla James, who attended the hearing with a friend.

In court, however, Mullaney insisted that Turner had power of attorney over Mason's personal finances. He said the grant of power of attorney was notarized five years ago, signed by Mason, and witnessed by two others. Mason, who has advanced dementia from Alzheimer's disease, was lucid at that time, Mullaney said.

Mason, whose real name is Beatrice E. Turner, was not in court. The veteran of more than a half-century in radio, whose morning-drive program on WHAT-AM made her an influential voice in Philadelphia's African American community and city politics, lives in a nursing home and uses a wheelchair.

Mason's financial plight was discovered early last year when the bill went unpaid for her nursing home, Sunrise of Lafayette Hill, where she lived for more than four years. The county Orphans Court appointed a lawyer as Mason's executor and to oversee her finances.

Then, in March, it became known that Montgomery County authorities had arrested Turner on Nov. 30, 2016, and charged Mason's only grandson with draining her estate.

Officials alleged that in February 2016, Turner began using his grandmother's money to start Turner Real Estate Holdings Inc. Along the way, officials said, Turner also spent Mason's money on liquor and food, spending $15,556 at a Las Vegas strip club.

He remains free on $20,000 bail.

Although Mason's court-appointed lawyer managed to recover $62,000 by selling property Turner bought with his grandmother's money, the theft has drastically affected her life. She has been moved to a less expensive nursing home, and a friend, Deborah Satterwhite, takes care of Mason's physical needs.