Leona Helmsley 88.
(photo credit: )
Nicknamed during her lifetime the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley, an American
billionaire who evaded taxes and spent time in prison, is doing good deeds for
Israel three years after her death at the age of 87.
The Leona and Harry
Helmsley Charitable Trust – established in 1999, two years after the death of
her billionaire husband – has just announced that over $10 million in grants
from their estate will be donated to three prominent Israeli institutions – Tel
Aviv Sourasky Medical Center ($4.3m.), the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Rehovot ($3.9m.) and the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization ($2m.).
learned that giving to Israeli causes had not been
the widow’s will; the three recipients were chosen by the five trustees
in charge of the New York-based charitable trust. A team looked at
Israeli recipient organizations for a year and finally named them.
Rubinstein, the spokesman of the trust and Leona Helmsley’s longtime
spokesman, declined to comment on how the foundation had decided to give
prominent Israeli causes.
Rubinstein did say that the Helmsley trust was a
“continuation of Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley’s generous giving through their
lifetimes.” Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center got the money to help
avoid post-surgery complications and to study the origins of
The Weizmann Institute was given the grant “to bring a new panel
of world-class researchers to focus on Crohn’s disease ... to better
the disorder and spur new treatments. The grant will provide seed money
wide-ranging set of scientific investigations to bring
experts to the study of the disease.” The Disabled Veterans Organization
reportedly spend its gift to help build and equip a state-of-the-art
Beersheba for rehabilitation and support services for disabled veterans
victims of terrorism.
The center, the total cost of which is $23.3
million, is scheduled to open this fall.
The Tel Aviv medical center said
it knew it had been named as a beneficiary.
“The planned research project
will enable better understanding of the immunology of inflammatory bowel
diseases [that afflict millions of people around the world] and thus
improved treatment and, hopefully, to the end of the suffering they
“During these times of the world’s growing isolation of Israel on so
many fronts, we are especially thankful to the trustees... for putting
faith in us and in the quality of research of our medical center,” it
Ora Seidner, a representative of the disabled veterans group, said
it had applied for a Helmsley grant but had not been informed of being
Given the good work the group does in Israel, she said, it “does
not care” who the source of the donation is, adding that the trust had
contributed much to health and other causes.
No comment was available from
the Rehovot institute.
Twice divorced, Helmsley (nee Rosenthal) then
married Harry, a billionaire New York City real estate investor and
operator who was 11 years her senior. She earned a reputation in the
1980s as a
symbol of avarice after her 1988 indictment and subsequent conviction
evasion. One of her former housekeepers quoted her as saying, “We don’t
taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
After unpaid contractors claimed
work done on her home had been charged to her company, she was
convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes. She was
16 years in prison, but was actually jailed for only 19 months, followed
months of house arrest.
She devoted her last years to improving her image,
donating many millions to Hurricane Katrina victims, the families of
killed in the World Trade Center attacks, New York University Medical
buildings and a Connecticut hospital, among others.
Her will left $12m.
for her Maltese dog (named Trouble, which will be buried next to
Helmsley in her
mausoleum when it dies), $100,000 to her chauffeur and millions to her
Alvin, but nothing for two of her grandchildren.
A representative of one
of the Israeli recipient organizations said that Helmsley may have had a
reputation, “but with these grants, she can go to heaven.”