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Helmsley estate: $136M to charity, $1M to dogs

By jim Published: April 22, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — Real estate baroness Leona Helmsley's estate gave away $136 million Tuesday to hospitals, foundations and the homeless and left $1 million to animal charities, prompting one advocate to accuse the estate of failing to honor the hotel tycoon's wishes.

Helmsley's estate announced 53 charitable grants Tuesday, the bulk of which went to New York City hospitals and medical research. The largest grant, $40 million, went to create a digestive diseases center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, while $35 million went to start two research facilities in Helmsley's name at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

The estate for Helmsley — who died in 2007 at age 87 — divided $1 million equally to 10 animal and dog charities, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and several groups that train guide dogs for the blind.

Animal rights groups rejoiced last year amid public reports that Helmsley specified in her will that her multibillion-dollar hotel and real estate empire should go entirely to dog-releated charities. The hotel queen's will had named her dog, Trouble, as a beneficiary.


But a surrogate court judge ruled in February that trustees for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust had sole authority to decide which charities benefit from her estate.

"Throughout their lives, the Helmsleys were committed to helping others through the innovations of medical research of responding to those in need during critical times and in other areas," the trustees said in a statement Tuesday. "We now have the privilege of continuing their good works by providing support where it will make a difference."

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said Tuesday the amount of donations to animal charities — ranging from the animal cruelty prevention society to groups such as Canine Partners for Life — doesn't reflect Helmsley's wishes.

"Giving less than 1 percent of the allocation to dog-related organizations is a trifling amount and not consistent with Leona Helmsley's expressed intention," Pacelle said. "We've been in touch with interested parties and hope for a constructive resolution."

The grants include $25 million to create a Helmsley Center for Electrophysiology — the study of electrical properties of cells and tissues — at Mount Sinai, and $10 million for the Helmsley Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the same hospital.

The gift "represents a major step forward in our long-standing commitment to advance human health through research, innovative clinical care and education," said Kenneth L. Davis, president and CEO of Mount Sinai.

Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian, said the three-year grant "will allow us to propel our digestive disease program to a whole new level and to become a national leader in innovation and comprehensive care."

More than $15 million was donated to health care systems in South Dakota, including advanced cancer treatment funding at a Mitchell, S.D., hospital and hospital pharmacy funding in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The foundation gave several $200,000 donations to city homeless and poverty programs such as Citymeals-on-Wheels and Bowery Mission.

Helmsley's fortune, with much of the holdings in real estate, had been estimated at $5 billion to $8 billion after her death.

Her estate still is attempting to sell her 23,000-square-foot estate in Greenwich, Conn. The asking price of the 40-acre property, known as Dunnellenn Hall, recently was slashed to $75 million, the Greenwich Time reported Tuesday.

The estate was priced at $125 million when it went on the market in early 2008, and the price was cut to $95 million last fall. The mansion was built as a wedding gift by a father for his daughter nearly a century ago. It has been home to an industrialist, a shipping magnate, a New York Yankees owner and Helmsley and her late husband, Harry.

The five trustees managing the estate include Helmsley's brother, two of her grandchildren, her lawyer and adviser.

--AMY WESTFELDT
Associated Press Writer

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