Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trump's Not The Only One Like That... Do You Remember Leona Helsmely? And There's Steve Wynn


Remember Leona Helmsley? She had her moment of tabloid fame in the '80s. A crooked real estate agent whose real estate license was suspended, she married an elderly, rich real estate developer who owned the Helmsley Palace, right down the blocked from my NYC office. She was a billionaire who refused it pay contractors who worked for her and was eventually found guilty of tax evasion (and extortion). That's when she became infamous and a poster child for what Bernie refers to as "the millionaire and billionaire class." At the trial a housekeeper who worked at the Helmsley mansion in Connecticut testified that Leona bragged to her that "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."
Leona's trial began June 26, 1989, in New York City before federal Judge John M. Walker. Her chief defense lawyer was Gerald A. Feffer, from the elite criminal defense firm of Williams and Connolly. The chief prosecutors were DeVita and Rudolph Giuliani. The evidence against Leona was overwhelming, and the public animosity toward her for her arrogant attitude on taxes was shared by the former contractors and Helmsley Hotels employees who testified against her. Feffer, who had once headed the criminal tax division of the U.S. Justice Department and was an expert on tax fraud cases, couldn't stem the avalanche. On August 30, 1989, the jury found Leona guilty on 33 of the charges against her.

All that remained was the sentencing. Leona begged the court for mercy:
I'm guilty of a serious crime. I'm more humiliated and ashamed than anybody could imagine. I feel as though I have been living through a nightmare for three years.
Walker sentenced Leona to four years in prison and a fine of more than $7 million. In his sentencing order Walker made it clear that he found Leona's expression of remorse to be too little and too late given the severity of her crimes. Walker addressed his comments directly to Leona:
You bear full responsibility for this scheme. It was carried out under your direct orders for your benefit. Unlike many defendants who come before the court, you were not driven to this crime by financial need. Rather, your conduct was the product of naked greed. Throughout its course you persisted in the arrogant belief that you were above the law. Moreover, since the indictment and the trial, you have displayed no remorse or contrition. I trust that the sentence today will make it very clear that no person, no matter how wealthy or prominent, stands above the law.
After countless appeals and legal maneuvering, Helmsley finally began her sentence on April 15, 1992-- ironically, the day income taxes are due. She served 18 months in jail and was released in October 1993. Harry Helmsley died in 1997 and left his considerable fortune in real estate to Leona. Almost immediately, she began to sell off his real estate holdings.
She was later convicted of a felony-- firing an employee for being gay-- and was forced to sell the Helmsley Palace because felons aren't allowed to have liquor licenses. Once "the Queen of Mean" was out and they changed the name to the Palace, I started staying there and it became my home in New York. A few years after I retired, I stopped staying there, realizing what an unconscionable waste of money it was.

This week I've been booking hotels for an upcoming trip to Russia, Azerbaijan and Finland. I'm finding it perfectly easy to avoid the outrageous rates that corporations happily pay for their executives and then write off on their taxes as expenses. Instead of $700/night 4 Seasons and Ritz Carltons, there are comparably comfortable and well-located hotels for a fraction of the price. And with a better clientele. I mean who wants to be anywhere near people like Leona Helmsley or others from the millionaire and billionaire class? She was once furious that a waiter at the Helmsley Palace brought a cup of tea that had a drop of liquid in the saucer and she smashed it out of his hands, fired him and then demanded he get on his hands and knees and beg to get his job back. You want to be in a room with someone like that?

No, me neither. But another billionaire hotelier, Steve Wynn, apparently does. The Mob-connected Republican casino owner-- his big political contributions this cycle have been for Marco Rubio and Pennsylvania wing-nut Pat Toomey-- "tossed a verbal grenade," according to CNBC, "into the class wars." Channeling his inner-Leona Helmsley:
In a presentation to investors Wednesday night, Wynn-- founder of Wynn Resorts-- said his company is like a luxury brand that focuses on people with money. He explained that an environment that attracts and caters to the wealthy will attract everyone else.

"Rich people only like being around rich people," he said. "Nobody likes being around poor people, especially poor people... This company caters to the top end of the gaming world. We’re sort of Chanel or Louis Vuitton, to use the comparison, the metaphor of the retail business. But unlike Chanel and Louis Vuitton, we are able in our business to cater to all of the market. By making our standards so high."
Maybe he should run for office too before Trump completely poisons the market for out-of-touch billionaires. Trump once told a Daily Show audience that "My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons." Wynn backs Trump's candidacy and Trump is lucky his fans don't watch the Daily Show.

Trump and Wynn, crooked billionaires who hate poor people

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