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To this day, we remain good friends," Shapiro says. She has been wonderful to me. My granddaughter was deaf and she tried to help with doctors in New York. I think she's a wonderful person.
And it really is true that her life revolves around her husband."
Shapiro halted for just an instant and then rolled on.
Leona expects people to do their job. She just doesn't like incompetence on any level and won't put up with it in her hotels. For Leona, everything must be perfect."
In order to make things perfect for the Helmsleys, workmen were brought in to change over the house to Leona's specifications. Cabinetmakers, tile men, carpenters, painters, plumbers and gardeners were summoned. This took a year and what has been estimated at another $2 million.
Wooden floors were torn out and replaced by marble. The tennis court was removed and a second poolÏindoorsÏwas installed. The changes cost an estimated $2 million.
Steve Avans and his son, Steve Jr., rated by insiders as the best painters in the Valley, worked in the Helmsley place for more than a year.
Young Steve is a master painter, noted for his work on Rolls-Royce automobiles. He recalls seeing the transformation take place.
Looking back on it, it's hard to believe all the things that were changed," he says.
One of the most time-consuming alterations was the decision to remove the tennis court and build the Olympic-size swimming pool under glass for winter use. That gave the Helmsleys two swimming pools.
They had to build a special ramp with diamond and metal plates to get the tractor up here again," Avans recalled.
Mrs. Helmsley never complained about the work.
She ordered us to transform the garage, too. There was 5,000 square feet in it, you know, and we changed it over to four bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room for servants' quarters. That still left room for a four-car garage.
We also put in an elevator, six feet by six feet, that runs from the garage to the third floor. The pool house also has a complete exercise room, because Mrs. Helmsley likes to work out every morning both on her bicycle and other equipment, and in the pool. There are jet streams in the pool so that you can swim against them.
In the outdoor pool, there's a big, flat rock in the middle for sunning. There's also a rock slide made of polished terrazzo marble.
Up in the master bedroom, the television screen slides into the ceiling and is invisible when not being used. There is gold leaf on all the cabinets.
There's also an Arizona room, a huge living room and a library. Most people wouldn't believe a house like this existed.
I heard a lot of bad things about her before we went on the job, but she surprised me. It turned out she was great to work for."
Ordinarily, I wouldn't be sympathetic. This is, after all, Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean." We have been conditioned for years to abhor everything about her.
But the government's action in this case against her is frightening. There is a great similarity between the actions of the IRS in this case and the Nazis who pursued the rich Jews in Hitler's Germany. In seeking a settlement with the government over her 1989 income taxes, she says she has already paid $600 million in taxes. No one has asked how much more she spent in lawyer's fees.
That case stemmed from charges that the Helmsleys billed personal expenses for renovations at their home in Greenwich, Connecticut, as business expenses.
It will be a death sentence for both me and my husband, Harry," Leona said at her sentencing. She has appealed. She hopes for a new trial.
Judge Griesa told Leona to get realistic. He advised her that the federal prison for women in Lexington, Kentucky, Ôhad very fine facilities" that could adequately care for her. ²Alan Dershowitz has recently arrived on the scene to serve as her lawyer.
Doesn't it seem that Dershowitz is suddenly everywhere?
His book, Chutzpah, is a best seller. He is racing about trying to get former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson out of jail. And, if you so desire, you can see Dershowitz portrayed on home video in Reversal of Fortune, the movie in which he extricated Claus Von Bulow from a murder charge.
Are there no other defense lawyers in this country?
I watched the other night as Leona spoke haltingly to Barbara Walters on national television. It was an emotional event, but it probably won't help. Leona wore a pink cashmere bathrobe and very little makeup.
She broke down. She shed real tears. At least, I think they were real. But there are many people in this country who abhor Barbara Wa-Wa." There are even more who fear the IRS.
What it comes down to is that Harry and Leona Helmsley are a very rich couple who don't stand a chance.
Leona is not likely to get anywhere near the ground swell of support Ross Perot is getting. It's simply no longer acceptable to make big money in real estate.