Leona Helmsley was a New York billionaire famous during the 1980's. Leona went to prison at the end of that decade and she died in 2007. In her Will, Leona left her beloved Maltese dog named Trouble a bequest of $12 Million. Trouble died a few months ago at 12 years of age, after a life of pampering and luxury. I thought I'd tell you a little about their story.
Leona and her husband Harry were wealthy real estate developers. In the 1980's, their empire of New York City buildings was worth $5 Billion. That's 5,000 Million dollars. One of my earliest clients used to be a business partner with Harry; both he and the Helmsleys were slippery characters.
Leona was active in her husband's real estate business and she had a horrible reputation. People described her as tyrannically cruel and selfish. She fired people cavalierly for no reason and enjoyed making people beg for their jobs. In the 1980's, she was widely known in New York as "The Queen of Mean."
Leona became infamous for a remark she made to her housekeeper. Impressed at Leona's wealth, the housekeeper observed that Leona must pay a lot in taxes. Leona's response was: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." That comment captures Leona's attitude of condescension and entitlement.
There was a long parade of people happy to slam Leona for her history of insults and bad behavior. The most fascinating part of the trial was her lawyer's closing argument. Addressing the jury, he said -- and I'm not making this up -- that his client Leona "is a bitch." It was impossible for him to credibly argue otherwise. He tried to explain that while Leona was a lousy person, she was not a criminal. He tried to separate the overwhelming attacks on her character from the legality of her behavior. The effort failed. The jury found her guilty.
What do you think of this story? Oh, and I always thought Leona looked like The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson in "Batman" -- released that same year as Leona's trial (1989).