Tax Evasion Trial is Trying for Hotel Queen
NEW YORK (AP) _ All in all, Leona Helmsley’s first week in court was not a good one. She was heckled, she cried - and her money and her exacting standards as queen of a hotel empire made her an easy target for ridicule in the press.
It was reported that the billionaire slipped off her left pump during jury selection, that she paid $1.57 for a tuna fish sandwich and that she ate from a plastic plate in the courthouse cafeteria.
In ads featuring Mrs. Helmsley as the uncompromising ″queen of the Helmsley Hotels,″ she vows never to use plastic eating utensils.
Jury selection for her federal tax evasion trial is expected to be completed Wednesday morning, after which Assistant U.S. Attorney James DeVita will outline his case against Mrs. Helmsley and two former aides.
Mrs. Helmsley, whose 69th birthday was Tuesday, is accused of billing $4 million in personal expenses to the $5 billion hotel and real estate empire she heads with her husband, Harry.
Most of the money was spent to renovate their Greenwich, Conn., mansion, prosecutors say.
She also is charged with shaking down contractors who did business with the Helmsley organization.
Potential jurors were asked to reveal their income, what they think about rich people and whether they believe the hotel queen is an ogre.
Helmsley, 80, who was indicted in 1988 with his wife, was removed from the trial after being ruled mentally incompetent because of a series of strokes.
During lunch in the courthouse last week, she was heckled by a man who apparently had had too much to drink.
″You rich people. You all ought to go to jail. You’re guilty 3/8″ yelled the man. He was escorted out by security officers, and she resumed her lunch.
Later in the week, Mrs. Helmsley was overcome by emotion when her lawyer, Gerald Feffer, asked that she be tried apart from Frank Turco, a former senior officer for Helmsley Hotels.
As Feffer charged that Turco had ″robbed her blind,″ Mrs. Helmsley had tears streaming down her face. She wiped them away with her hands until a judge’s clerk brought her a handful of tissues.
U.S. District Judge John Walker Jr., a cousin of President Bush, denied the request for separate trials.
Feffer has said an essential part of Mrs. Helmsley’s defense will be that Turco was involved in embezzlement and extortion without her knowledge.