Helmsley Asks the State to Drop Tax Evasion Charges
A lawyer for Leona Helmsley urged a judge Thursday to dismiss state tax evasion charges against the self-styled hotel queen and prove that there is not “one law for the wealthy . . . and another for everyone else.”
Dabbing her eyes and nose with a tissue, Helmsley sobbed softly as her attorney, Sandor Frankel, said his client had been “ground up in the justice machine for nearly five years.”
Helmsley, 70, was convicted of federal tax fraud and sentenced last fall to a four-year prison term. The sentence has been stayed pending her appeal.
Helmsley now faces prosecution for allegedly cheating on her state taxes. She is accused of disguising millions of dollars in renovations at her Greenwich, Conn., mansion as business expenses incurred by the hotel empire that she and her husband Harry run.
Outside state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Helmsley told reporters she was being unfairly pursued by prosecutors because of her celebrity status. She said she would fight the charges and prove her innocence.
“Enough’s enough,” said Helmsley.
She burst into tears again and her team of eight lawyers and a handful of bodyguards rushed her toward her gray limousine.
“I am not going to jail. I’ve done nothing wrong. My only crime is that I’m Leona Helmsley. For that I’m guilty,” Helmsley said.
Harry Helmsley, 81, who was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial in the federal case, is expected to undergo a competency examination in April in the state case. A hearing was slated for April 30.
On Thursday, Frankel urged Justice John Bradley to dismiss charges against Helmsley, saying they were improper because they grew out of immunized testimony she gave to a 1985 grand jury investigating sales tax evasion. He also said the state charges were based on the same allegations as the federal charges and therefore represent double jeopardy.
He said Helmsley’s conviction on federal tax charges, combined with her state charges on tax evasion, gives the impression “there is one law for the wealthy, well-known and vilified and another for everyone else.”
Frankel said the public has already gotten a clear message that tax evasion is wrong from the ordeal of Helmsley’s federal trial and her stiff prison sentence.
“I think the public on the outside looking in would say, ‘It’s not worth it. The destruction of human life--what for?’ ” Frankel said.
But Assistant Atty. Gen. Alfredo Mendez said it would be in the interest of justice to prosecute Helmsley to the fullest extent of the law.
“We’re talking about at least $1 million dollars. I just think about the number of police officers, teachers and school lunches that New Yorkers go without when people don’t pay their taxes,” said Mendez.
The judge said he would rule on the dismissal motions May 17.