Helmsley to start term for tax evasion

April 15, 1992|By David Treadwell | David Treadwell,Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- With her sentence for tax evasion upheld yesterday, self-styled hotel queen Leona Helmsley said she was "prepared to abide by the law" by going to prison today.

Helmsley is to report to a federal prison hospital in Kentucky after an appeals court upheld her four-year sentence. The court rejected arguments that the term would amount to a "life sentence" for her and a "death sentence" for her ailing husband.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that a district judge had not abused his discretion in denying Helmsley's appeal of her sentence. She is scheduled to surrender to authorities on the same day that millions of Americans file income taxes.

Helmsley's attorney, Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law School professor, contended at a hearing by the three-judge appellate panel that serious illnesses had "dramatically cut" her life expectancy since the sentence was imposed in 1989.

In addition, he argued, Helmsley's husband, Harry, is so ill that he is certain to die if he is separated from his wife's companionship and care.

"Leona Helmsley is receiving a life sentence [and] her husband a death sentence," Mr. Dershowitz said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Hellerer contended that permitting her to avoid prison would "make a mockery of the law" because the 71-year-old businesswoman remains active, travels regularly, appears on talk shows and has not relinquished command of any part of her vast financial empire.

Helmsley was not in court, but her publicist later issued a statement in which she said "I've learned of the court's actions. I accept the judgment."

She was convicted in 1989 of conspiring with her husband to cheat the government out of $1.7 million in taxes over three years by masking personal expenses, including renovations on their country home in Connecticut, as business expenses.

During the trial, her former maid testified that Helmsley had once bragged: "Only the little people pay taxes."

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