- Category : Business-Entrepreneur
- Type : PE
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (12,16)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Tension 2
American entrepreneur who specialized in property development and, some might add, outrageous behavior. She found her forte in real estate and was considered a genius in turning over property. When she met hotel millionaire Harry Helmsley, 11 years her senior, they combined forces to build a huge financial empire amidst personal and corporate intrigue. They signed for the location of their first hotel on July 1, 1974 and the luxurious Helmsley Palace opened mid-September 1980. Together, the couple built a combined net worth of several billion dollars, with holdings that reached over 100 properties. They lived lavishly and the press reported such extravagances as a $45,000 silver clock given as a birthday present, a 28-room Connecticut estate, an elegant condo in Palm Beach, and closets stuffed with shelves of handbags and rows of designer gowns.
The daughter of a milliner, Leona was raised in Brooklyn in a very close family. After high school, she modeled briefly before marrying attorney Leo Panzirer in 1938 at her parents’ urging. They had one son and divorced after the war. Leona went to work as a secretary in the garment industry. Along the way, she had a tempestuous second and third marriage and divorce - with the same man – Joseph Lubin, a garment industry executive for whom she had worked. After her second divorce from Lubin, she landed a secretarial job with a real estate firm and worked her way up. With a feel for money, an uncanny ability to handle property, and great ambition, she was good at what she did from the beginning.
By 1970 Leona had accumulated personal wealth in her thriving career as a hard-charging real estate broker with one of Harry Helmsley’s firms. Her tenacity caught his attention. Harry had been married for 33 years but after meeting Leona, he divorced his first wife. With their marriage in April 1972 they formed a formidable partnership. Leona ran their empire with a velvet fist and was widely known among her staff as a tyrant. After her only son died in March 1982 of a heart attack, she made life miserable for his widow and child, going so far as to force their eviction from a Helmsley-owned dwelling. Such actions appeared mean-spirited and vengeful. When layered with her demand for perfection, her periodic foul-mouthed piques of temper, and her often-abusive dealings, her outrageous actions earned her the moniker “The Queen of Mean.”
In 1989, the Helmsleys were accused of billing $4 million in personal expenses to their $5 billion hotel and real estate empire, and they were arraigned on 47 counts of tax evasion. By then, Harry had had a series of strokes that made him unfit to stand trial; Leona went to trial alone in June 1989. She was found guilty on August 30, 1989 of 33 counts of tax evasion, but innocent on the charges of fraud and extortion. She was given four years in prison and fined $7 million.
On October 26, 1993, she was released from the Danbury, CT Federal Prison to a halfway house. For three months she was allowed out only for work and other legitimate purposes. After leaving the halfway house, she completed 750 hours of community service and three years of probation before returning to the hotel business. Harry died on January 4, 1997. In February 2001, the Washington Post reported that New York real estate empress Leona Helmsley, now 80, forced the resignation of the CEO of her empire, Patrick Ward, 45. Believing that he harbored romantic feelings toward her, she ousted him when she discovered that he is gay. They settled out-of-court. On February 4, 2003, Charles Bell, former manager of her Park Lane Hotel, was awarded over $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages after a jury found her guilty of inflicting emotional harm through her anti-gay abuse.
The billionaire died of heart failure on August 20, 2007 at her home in Greenwich, CT. Always the newsmaker, even in death, she left $12 million of her $4 billion estate to her pet dog, a Maltese named Trouble. A judge later reduced that amount to $2 million; the dog died in December 2010.