Helmsley Trust donates to Israel

‘Queen of Mean’ estate gives $10m. in grants.

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.).
The Jerusalem Post learned that giving to Israeli causes had not been stipulated in the widow’s will; the three recipients were chosen by the five trustees she put in charge of the New York-based charitable trust. A team looked at possible Israeli recipient organizations for a year and finally named them.
Howard Rubinstein, the spokesman of the trust and Leona Helmsley’s longtime personal spokesman, declined to comment on how the foundation had decided to give to 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 patients avoid post-surgery complications and to study the origins of inflammatory bowel disease.
The Weizmann Institute was given the grant “to bring a new panel of world-class researchers to focus on Crohn’s disease ... to better understand the disorder and spur new treatments. The grant will provide seed money for a wide-ranging set of scientific investigations to bring multi-disciplinary experts to the study of the disease.” The Disabled Veterans Organization will reportedly spend its gift to help build and equip a state-of-the-art center in Beersheba for rehabilitation and support services for disabled veterans and 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 lead to improved treatment and, hopefully, to the end of the suffering they cause,” it said.
“During these times of the world’s growing isolation of Israel on so many fronts, we are especially thankful to the trustees... for putting their faith in us and in the quality of research of our medical center,” it added.
Ora Seidner, a representative of the disabled veterans group, said it had applied for a Helmsley grant but had not been informed of being chosen.
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 luxury hotel 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 for tax evasion. One of her former housekeepers quoted her as saying, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
 After unpaid contractors claimed work done on her home had been charged to her company, she was investigated and convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes. She was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but was actually jailed for only 19 months, followed by two months of house arrest.
She devoted her last years to improving her image, donating many millions to Hurricane Katrina victims, the families of firemen killed in the World Trade Center attacks, New York University Medical Center 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 brother Alvin, but nothing for two of her grandchildren.
A representative of one of the Israeli recipient organizations said that Helmsley may have had a bad reputation, “but with these grants, she can go to heaven.”