Already a successful seller of residential real estate, Leona Helmsley married real-estate tycoon Harry Helmsley in 1972 and became president of Helmsley Hotels in 1980. She was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion in 1989 during a sensational trial that included testimony that she terrorized both menial and executive help and received a four-year sentence and served 21 months in prison.
Rise to Power
Businesswoman an real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley was born Leona Mindy Rosenthal on July 4, 1920, in Ulster County, New York. Already a successful seller of residential real estate, she married real-estate tycoon Harry Helmsley in 1972, her fourth marriage. Harry Helmsley's estimated $5 billion real estate empire included hotels, apartment buildings and commercial properties—including managing the Empire State Building in New York City. He died in 1997 at the age of 87.
Helmsley became president of Helmsley Hotels in 1980 and appeared as the "Queen" in high-profile, high-ego advertising campaigns. Helmsley was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion in 1989 during a sensational trial that included testimony that she terrorized both menial and executive help at her homes and hotels.
Her fate as "Queen of Mean" was sealed when a former housekeeper testified that she heard Helmsley say: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." Helmsley denied having said it. She received a four-year sentence and served 21 months in prison.
In 2002, a former employee claimed he was fired by Leona Helmsley because he was homosexual. The jury originally awarded Charles Bell $11.7 million, but a judge reduced the award to $554,000.
Leona Helmsley died of heart failure at her summer home in Greenwich, Connecticut on August 20, 2007 at the age of 87. In her will, she left $12 million to her dog, a Maltese named Trouble, while denying two of her grandchildren "for reasons that are known to them." In 2008, a judge awarded the disowned grandchildren $6 million, and cut Trouble's share to $2 million. The grandchildren have charged Helmsley was not mentally competent when she signed her will. In April 2009, trustees for Leona Helmsley's estate started distributing her fortune by awarding $136 million to charitable causes and $1 million going towards "purposes related to the provision of care for dogs."
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