A well-known American businesswoman named Leona Helmsley built a significant fortune as a hotelier. She was infamous for her run-ins with the law and her oppressive demeanor, earning the moniker “Queen of Mean.” She was the spouse and widow of Harry Helmsley, a prominent real estate investor from New York. Helmsley held the distinction of consistently appearing on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Her real estate companies possessed a number of opulent hotels and premium real estate. But because of her haughty attitude and her treatment of workers, she developed a bad reputation. She had hired builders to build her house, and they had also filed a lawsuit against her for failing to pay dues. She was found guilty of federal income tax evasion and other offenses after an investigation into her behavior. Despite receiving a sixteen-year initial sentence, she only served nineteen months in jail and two months of house arrest. She was also charged with homophobia after a former worker claimed he was sacked only for being gay. At the age of 87, she died from congestive heart failure.
Early Childhood & Life
On July 4, 1920, in Marbletown, New York, to a Polish Jewish family, Lena Mindy Rosenthal, who would later become Leona Helmsley, was born. Morris Rosenthal and Ida Rosenthal were her parents. Her mother was a housewife and her father used to create hats for a living.
Her family relocated across the nation a number of times before landing in Manhattan. She attended Abraham Lincoln High School for a while before leaving.
Before settling on Roberts as her formal last name, Helmsley underwent a number of surname changes. She briefly worked in a sewing factory before joining a New York real estate company. Later, she rose to the position of vice president.
Leona Helmsley’s Career
Leona Helmsley started working for Abe Hirschfeld as a hotelier in 1964. She eventually worked as a broker for condominiums. She developed a romantic relationship with married multimillionaire real estate tycoon Harry Helmsley in 1968 during the course of her career.
She quickly became a senior vice president at one of his brokerage firms. In 1972, after divorcing his wife, Helmsley wed Leona Helmsley. She began to experience legal issues at this time and was accused of pressuring the occupants of one of the units she was able to secure to purchase condominiums.
She was obligated to compensate the renters and grant them three-year leases as a result of her loss, which required her to lose. Additionally, her real estate license was revoked. She, therefore, got to work expanding her husband’s hotel empire.
The couple began transforming their apartment complexes into condominiums. Harry Helmsley constructed The Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue while concentrating on the hotel business.
The Empire State Building, 230 Park Avenue, and the Tudor City apartment complex were all part of the real estate empire they created in New York City. They also created a number of additional buildings, including the Helmsley Palace Hotel and the New York Helmsley Hotel. Leona eventually came into direct control of 20 of the chain’s hotels.
The Helmsley’s accumulated enormous riches over the years, which finally exceeded $1 billion.
She had a reputation for being authoritarian and firing people for the smallest mistakes. When they were about to be fired, she was known to curse and criticize them.
Verdicts and Prison Terms
The Dunnellon Hall in Greenwich, Connecticut, was purchased by the Helmsley’s for $11 million with the intention of using it as a weekend getaway. They made the decision to remodel it, which ultimately cost $8 billion. They were hesitant to pay it, though. They were consequently sued by the contractors, and they ultimately had to pay off their obligation.
The Helmsley’s were charged with evading tax obligations as well. A federal criminal inquiry resulted from this. However, because of Harry Helmsley’s failing health, their trial was postponed until the summer of 1989. He had a stroke and was declared unable to stand trial, so Leona was left to defend herself.
The trial made clear Leona Helmsley’s oppressive and cruel treatment of her staff, subcontractors, executives, and even family members. Numerous of her former workers also gave evidence against her. One of her former housekeepers recalled Helmsley telling her, “We don’t pay taxes. Taxes are only paid by the lower classes. Helmsley, though, refuted it.
As several of the convictions Helmsley faced were overturned, her initial sentence of 16 years in jail was later reduced. Additionally, she eventually succeeded in having her sentence reduced to just nineteen months with the aid of a new attorney. She completed her term between April 1992 and January 1994.
Most of Leona Helmsley’s later years were spent alone. In 1997, her husband passed away. She also reportedly moved into an apartment with her dog and grew distant from her family and friends.
An ex-employee who claimed he was fired for being gay filed a lawsuit against her in 2002. He was awarded $11,200,000 in damages against her, but that amount was later reduced to $544,000 by a judge.
She was also forced to cede control of her hotel empire since most of them featured bars, which are illegal for felons to own in New York.
Leona’s Individual Life
Leona Helmsley has four marriages. Leo Panzirer and she were married for the first time in 1938. Their separation occurred in 1952. After that, she had two marriages with Joseph Lubin, both of which ended in divorce. In 1972, she finally got married to Harry Helmsley, and they remained together until his passing in 1997.
At Dunnellon Hall, Leona Helmsley passed away on August 20, 2007, due to congestive heart failure.
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust received her estate, which was worth over $4 billion. She also left Trouble, her dog, $12 million.
Estimated Net Worth
American entrepreneur Leona Helmsley has a $5 billion peak net worth. Leona Helmsley’s reputation for mistreating her family and employees led to the nick-name “Queen of Mean” being given to her. She was found guilty of federal income tax evasion and a slew of other offences in the late 1980s as a result of claims that contractors hired to work on her house failed to pay their bills.
Despite the fact that Leona Helmsley’s authoritarian behavior earned her the moniker “Queen of Mean,” some saw her charitable donations as evidence of her generosity. After 9/11, she gave the families of firefighters a $5 million donation.