Every receptionist is familiar with the situation: an importunate visitor without an appointment insists on seeing the boss to air real or imagined grievances. Such was the case with the confused, middle-age woman who pestered the receptionist last week at the Manhattan head quarters of the Deak-Perera foreign exchange company before being ushered out of the office. It might have been just another wrinkle of life in the big city--except the woman soon returned with a gun. Before she was tackled and disarmed by a police officer, Lois E. Lang, 44, had shot to death Receptionist Frances Lauder and her boss, Nicholas L. Deak.
For Deak, 80, the shooting was a tragic, dramatic finale to a storybook life that included parachute missions behind enemy lines in World War II as well as great wealth and serious conflicts with the Federal Government. Born to a family of bankers and lawyers on Oct. 8, 1905, in a part of Transylvania that now belongs to Rumania, Deak was educated in Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and France and became fluent in five languages. After taking a job with a foreign exchange brokerage firm in New York City in 1939, he joined the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and later became a senior intelligence officer in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he helped launch an exchange firm in New York that rapidly expanded and eventually had 70 currency outlets throughout the world. In the gold-rush days of the late '70s, Deak & Co. was handling 20% of U.S. retail gold sales.
At the same time, however, Deak was running into trouble with the Government. In March 1978 Deak & Co. was convicted by a federal court and fined $20,000 on charges of failing to report $11 million in large currency transactions by two Philippine businessmen. Then in October 1984 the President's Commission on Organized Crime charged that the firm had been involved in a multimillion-dollar laundering operation for international drug dealers. Early this year the Treasury Department handed down a $572,000 civil penalty against a Deak subsidiary in connection with the drug-money case.
Deak representatives denied all the charges. R. Leslie Deak, then executive vice president of the firm and the founder's son, blamed the commission report for some of the company's financial problems. In December 1984, Deak & Co. and two of its offshoots filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Two other subsidiaries, Deak-Perera U.S. and a foreign commerce bank, Deak National Bank, were not included in the filings. Said the younger Deak: "The damage we have suffered from maliciousness in that report to a very great extent caused the downfall of a very fine firm and the damage to a very fine man--my dad."
The elder Deak was shot when he stepped out of his office after hearing shots fired at the receptionist. According to a secretary hiding beneath a desk nearby, Lang muttered, "Now you've got yours." The woman was charged with two counts of second-degree murder.