The wife and heir of New York real estate tycoon Harry Helmsley (1909-1997), Leona Helmsley made national news in 1989 when she was sentenced to 18 months in prison for mail fraud and tax evasion. Helmsley's real estate firms owned posh hotels and prime real estate in New York City (including the lease on the Empire State Building), and Leona Helmsley for many years made the annual Forbes list of the richest Americans. But her imperious manner, and rumors of mistreatment of employees, earned her the tabloid title of "the Queen of Mean." Helmsley's apparent lack of contrition was summed up in a quote attributed to her by a former housekeeper: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." In 2002 she was sued by Charles Bell, a former employee who claimed he was fired by Helmsley because he was homosexual. (The jury originally awarded Bell $11.7 million, but a judge reduced the award in March 2003 to $554,000.) Leona Helmsley made more news after her death, when her lawyer announced that her will included a $12 million trust fund for her beloved white Maltese dog, Trouble. A judge reduced that award to $2 million, and Trouble lived well until his death in December of 2010.
A 1990 TV movie, Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean starred Suzanne Pleshette as Helmsley… Leona Helmsley had a long-running public feud with New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump.
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