NEW YORK — Jury selection began today in the $4-million tax evasion trial of Leona Helmsley, self-styled "Queen" of the national hotel chain, with her attorney complaining that publicity was hurting his case.
Most of the first panel of 18 prospective jurors for the U.S. District Court trial were questioned in Judge John Walker's chambers, with only a handful of spectators in the courtroom.
The trial of Helmsley and two business associates on the 47-count federal tax evasion indictment comes without her real estate magnate husband, Harry, at her side. The 80-year-old Helmsley, who amassed the $5-billion collection of real estate that includes the Empire State Building, also was named in the case, but he suffered a series of small strokes causing memory impairment and was severed from the case.
Early in the session today, Leona Helmsley's attorney, Gerald Feffer, held up the front page of Sunday's New York Post whose headline blared "Rich Pitch," suggesting that the defense will be looking for jurors who are not prejudiced against the rich and famous. "Your honor, I want to call your attention to the nature of the publicity this case is receiving," he said.