Facebook Twitter



Billionaire Leona Helmsley told a judge she was "in the middle of a nightmare" before he declared her unremorseful, sentenced her to four years in prison and ordered her to pay $8.8 million for tax evasion.

Mrs. Helmsley, portrayed as a regal perfectionist in advertisements for her hotel empire, sobbed and begged for mercy at her sentencing Tuesday. But U.S. District Judge John M. Walker Jr. was unswayed, saying "naked greed" caused her downfall."You believed you were above the law and displayed no remorse or contrition," said Walker. "You bear the full responsibility for this scheme with all of its fraudulent permutations. . . . You were at the apex of the pyramid of wrongdoing."

Besides prison, Walker imposed three years' probation and 750 hours of community service, recommending that she work at a Harlem home for infants born addicted to drugs. She would be eligible for parole after 16 months.

Walker also fined her $7.1 million and ordered one other penalty on the woman once said to have boasted to a maid: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." She must repay close to $1.7 million in back taxes and bear the government's costs in bringing her to justice.

"No person," he said, "no matter how wealthy and prominent, stands above the law."

As the 69-year-old Mrs. Helmsley made her tearful appeal to the judge, her ailing 80-year-old husband, Harry, sat three rows away.

"I am more humiliated and ashamed than anybody can ever imagine that I've been found guilty of a serious crime," said Mrs. Helmsley, dressed in black. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a nightmare. . . .

"A few years ago, I lost my only son," she said, adding that it "ripped me apart" when she saw photographs of his grave published.

"I beg you, don't let me lose Harry, too," she said. "Our whole life has been work and each other. Please don't. We have nothing else."

The Helmsleys, with a personal fortune of $1 billion, have $5 billion in real estate holdings, including 27 hotels and the Empire State Building.

Mrs. Helmsley was convicted of evading more than $1.2 million in federal taxes between 1983 and 1985 by billing personal expenses through the Helmsley business. She has appealed the Aug. 30 verdict that found her guilty of 33 counts of tax evasion, and she remains free on unspecified bail.