The portrait of Leona Helmsley emerging in a Manhattan courtroom bears little resemblance to the smiling queen of a real estate empire whose finicky attention to detail is trumpeted in slick magazine ads for her Helmsley Palace hotel.
Sure, both Leonas would demand the best. But the queen would pay for it, and the queen's English would be a bit more majestic.
"You (expletive), you're not my partner; you don't tell me how to spend my money," Helmsley once said, according to a former underling who was a prosecution witness at her federal trial on extortion and tax fraud charges.
The witness, former Helmsley executive Jeremiah McCarthy, testified that Helmsley screamed at him when he refused to sign a phony voucher that billed work performed at her mansion to the Helmsley business.
Helmsley, 69, and two former employees allegedly engaged in a false-invoice scheme and used company money to pay for $4 million in work on the Helmsleys' 28-room estate in Greenwich, Conn. She is also accused of taking payoffs from Helmsley suppliers.
Her 80-year-old husband, Harry, was severed from the case because of a loss of memory caused by a series of slight strokes.
Thus far, the jury has heard only the prosecution case. The trial, ending its third week today, is expected to last two more months, and there is no indication of whether Leona Helmsley will take the stand.
In testimony so far:
--McCarthy said Helmsley once refused to pay a $13,000 bill to a contractor who had built a barbecue pit. McCarthy pleaded the contractor's case--the man had six kids, he said.
"Why didn't he keep his pants on? He wouldn't have so many problems," Leona Helmsley said, according to the testimony.
--Elizabeth Baum, a former housekeeper at the mansion, recalled remarking to Leona Helmsley that the Helmsleys must pay a lot of taxes. She recalled her response: "We don't pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes."
--Leona Helmsley told Steven Chang, a Helmsley engineer, to duplicate at the estate an underground sound system she had seen at Disney World. Chang said she charged the $57,000 cost to the business, and then fired him because the hidden speakers were not hidden enough and they once went on at 4:30 a.m.
Her lawyer, Gerald A. Feffer, has done little to challenge the unpleasant portrait of his client, except to point out that the Helmsleys did pay $58 million in taxes from 1983 to 1985.
In fact, Feffer has gone out of his way to underscore Leona Helmsley's churlishness. In his opening statement, Feffer referred to her as a "tough bitch" who was "abrasive" and "demanding" because of the pressures applied to a woman who fought to succeed in a man's world.