Leona Helmsley's Estate Executors Want $100M for Their Services
NEW YORK CITY — The four people overseeing Leona Helmsley’s $5.4 billion estate want $100 million in compensation for shepherding the liquidation of her vast real estate portfolio — and doing posthumous damage control on the so-called Queen of Mean.
The executors — Helmsley's grandsons David and Walter Panzirer, her lawyer Sandor Frankel and her longtime friend John Codey — filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court on Tuesday, asking a judge to approve their princely payday from the estate’s funds.
In their request, the four say that since the hotelier’s death seven years ago, they’ve been very busy tending to her fortune and her wishes as stated in her will.
They’ve doled out gargantuan sums to charities and coordinated the sales of her mega properties, including a $722 million deal for her stake in the Empire State Building.
Their services also involved heading off bad press about Helmsley — especially from money-hungry disgruntled employees.
“Due to the previous press coverage of the decedent, some employees apparently viewed the estate as a deep pocket which was an easy target for spurious claims,” the legal filing says.
The executors claim that some employees filed lawsuits against Helmsley after she died, while others made accusations that never made it to court.
The four confronted each case by “quietly investigating and resolving all claims on economically prudent terms, bearing in mind that the decedent’s reputation and history of prior claims increased the risks of actions by others,“ the filing says.
They claimed one employee even tried to extort them.
While the employee’s name is not revealed, the filing says the resolution of the claim in 2008 helped executors cut staff at Dunnellen Hall, Helmsley’s $35 million Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion.
If a judge approves the compensation request, each executor will walk away with $25 million, or about $3.6 million for each year of service.
A fifth executor, Helmsley’s brother, Alvin Rosenthal, resigned in 2010 and died in 2012. His wife is seeking $6.25 million in compensation for his two years of service as an executor, according to the legal filing.
Rosenthal and the four other executors previously asked for and received $4.5 million in advance compensation in 2012. That sum is included in the latest request.
Helmsley also left cash gifts to some of the executors.
Rosenthal received a $15 million bequest, according to her will. David and Walter Panzirer each received $10 million inheritances.
The executors say in their latest filing that overseeing the estate involved weekly all-day meetings in the first few years after Helmsley’s 2007 death.
They had to immerse themselves in her hotels’ operations and oversaw turning her penthouse apartment in the Park Lane Hotel into a rentable suite, according to the filing.
The executors also handled the investigation and firing of the Helmsley Hotel’s general manager for the unauthorized booking of a “notorious international leader,” the filing says.
The New York Post reported in 2009 that hotel officials abruptly cancelled a banquet when they learned then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a keynote speaker.
Helmsley owned or held stakes in 84 properties spread across 17 states, including landmarked buildings, residential buildings and even CVS stores, according to the filing.
Her will instructed the executors to sell off her entire multi-billion-dollar portfolio, but she died just before the financial crisis hit in 2008. The timing posed a challenge to the executors as they tried to obtain the best price on properties, the filing says.
The executors say that while some properties are still in the process of being sold, they have had some success stories.
The filing says the executors got $722 million for Helmsley’s stake in the Empire State Building. The deal is expected to bring in an additional $175 million when the sale of the estate’s interests in connected properties is completed later this year, the filing says. The executors also tout the sale of the Park Lane Hotel for $660 million in 2013.
“The executors successfully administered an estate of extraordinary complexity and difficulty under historically challenging conditions and their services since the decedent’s death have bestowed tremendous benefit upon the estate,” the filing says.
In the filing, the executors also pat themselves on the back for negotiating a settlement with two of Helmsley’s grandchildren who were excluded from her will. The executors say they sidestepped costly legal challenges by inking a $6 million payout to the disinherited scions.
The filing also crows about the executors’ service in handling the inheritance of Helmsley’s dog, Trouble. The will left the pooch $12 million, but a judge gave the executors approval to reduce the amount to $2 million. The rest went to charity.
Lawyers for the executors did not respond to a request for comment.