One hint that something might have been amiss in William Parente's professional life came from a nondescript law office in a shopping center in Queens. Attorney Bruce Montague, uneasy about an investment he had made through Parente, asked for his money back - but got, he claims, nearly a half-million dollars in bounced checks.
Now, as detectives search for reasons that Parente would kill his family and himself in a Towson hotel room, attention is turning to the midtown Manhattan tax and estate lawyer's financial dealings.
"The FBI is looking into his financial dealings to determine if there was any impropriety ... to determine whether he committed any crimes, and if so, how many victims there are," James Margolin, an FBI spokesman in New York, said in a brief interview Wednesday.
Allegations spelled outAt Montague's request, Steven B. Drelich, a law firm partner, said in an interview that he wrote a letter to the New York state attorney general's office that spelled out allegations of fraud.
A spokesman for the New York attorney general's office, Alex Detrick, confirmed Wednesday that officials there had received a fax of the letter a day earlier, after news of Parente's death had broken, but he said that no investigation of Montague's allegations had begun, nor had a decision been made on whether to proceed with such a probe.
"We get thousands of complaints every day," Detrick said. "We haven't launched anything on this one."
Since news of Parente's death and Montague's allegations surfaced this week, another lawyer who works for Montague said their firm had received several calls from people claiming they had been defrauded by Parente. One person told of a $1.5 million loss, while another spoke of a $500,000 loss, the lawyer, Joseph D. Levy, said in an interview.
"He's upset, but he has the right perspective on it," Levy said of his boss, Montague, who did not return messages seeking comment. "It's nothing compared to what happened to the kids. The law firm does well. We'll move on."
Parente and his wife, Betty, 58, and two daughters, Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, 11, were found dead behind the locked door of a Sheraton hotel room in Towson on Monday afternoon. Baltimore County police officials said the women and the girl died from blunt force trauma and asphyxiation, and Parente killed himself by cutting.
Parente's older daughter was a sophomore at Loyola College. The Parentes left their home in Garden City, Long Island, on April 15, and Baltimore County police detectives believe the man killed his family Sunday.
Parente, who started practicing law in 1974 after graduating from Brooklyn Law School, was a tax and estate attorney who had a comfortable home in an upper-middle-class neighborhood on Long Island. The family also owned a beachfront condominium in Westhampton, property records show.
Working for investorsHis investment activities remain murky. Drelich, Montague's partner, said that Parente "put together investment vehicles" by "pulling together money for investments with notes and mortgages" on behalf of various investors.
Montague runs a firm specializing in civil and personal injury litigation out of a two-story, red brick building in a shopping center in Bayside. The firm shares the second floor with a Weight Watchers office and a financial services firm.
The money that Montague lost was his own, and not funds from the law firm, Drelich said.
In an interview with Newsday, Montague said that Parente's investments yielded 10 percent to 15 percent returns. But in the end, Montague claimed that he lost about $450,000.
Montague is devastated by news of the murder-suicide, his associates said.
"We're at a loss because to kill the family is just unforgivable," Drelich said.
The funds, Levy said, can be replaced. "It's money," he said. "It's just money."
Nick Madigan reported from New York, and Gus G. Sentementes reported from Baltimore.
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