William Parente was a successful Manhattan lawyer who apparently had a side business lending money at high interest rates — deals that may have cost investors as much as $20 million.
The revelations about his financial dealings came not long after the 59-year-old tax lawyer fatally beat and asphyxiated his family last weekend in a Baltimore hotel room, then took his own life, leaving few clues behind.
"What he did to his family is unforgivable," attorney Steven B. Drelich, whose law partner claims to have invested $450,000 with Parente, said Thursday. "The face of evil can be pretty ordinary."
The FBI and New York attorney general are looking into allegations that Parente was in a financial bind and may have owed millions of dollars to investors who are only now beginning to suspect they were scammed.
Drelich's partner, Queens lawyer Bruce Montague, learned Tuesday that two of six checks he recently received from Parente had bounced. The losses from the two checks totaled $245,000. A short time later, Montague began hearing media reports about the deaths of Parente and his family, and he contacted authorities.
A spokesman for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Montague's complaint was under review.
The FBI has confirmed it began investigating Parente's financial dealings — believed to be a business making short-term loans at high interest rates — after the murder-suicide.
A law enforcement official said Thursday that local authorities notified the FBI after trying to contact relatives of the victims using a cell phone recovered at the scene. Some of the numbers programmed into the phone were for people who told police they had investments with Parente, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Montague declined media interviews, but another law partner, Craig Gardy, said the publicity has prompted several telephone calls to his office from others who suspect they may have been scammed. Drelich said three people quickly came forward saying they lost at least $4 million.
"People were upset," said Gardy, who described a newspaper report that up to $20 million may have been swindled by Parente as "reasonable."
"Everyone that calls knows at least another person involved. It's going to keep growing."
Gardy said Montague invested with Parente after being introduced to him by another attorney, whom he would not identify. None of the other attorneys in Montague's law firm invested with Parente, according to Gardy.
Despite suspicions about the shady investments, Baltimore County police said a motive for the killings is still unknown.
"We have not reached that determination, and we may never reach that determination," said Cpl. Mike Hill.
The bodies of Parente, his wife, Betty Parente, 58, and their daughters, Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, 11, were discovered Monday in a hotel north of Baltimore. The couple and their younger daughter were in Maryland to visit Stephanie, a sophomore at Loyola College in Baltimore.
Betty and the daughters, who were found on a bed, died of blunt force trauma and asphyxiation. William Parente, who was found in the bathroom, died by cutting himself, but Hill declined to elaborate. Investigators could not determine if there was a struggle or whether objects found in the room were used in the killings or another object was used and later disposed of, Hill said.
A friend of Stephanie's told The Associated Press in an e-mail that her friend was surprised when her parents and little sister arrived unannounced in Baltimore last weekend.
"Steph had a big chem test to study for and didn't really have the time to visit with them," said Gabrielle Paige. "Steph never mentioned her parents to me, nor did she ever mention any financial problems. As far as I knew, there was nothing to be concerned about.
"I don't understand the events that took place on Sunday, and I don't think any magnitude of financial problems makes it any more understandable," she said.
The family lived in Garden City, a New York City suburb on Long Island, in a million-dollar house across from a golf course. The family attended St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Garden City, where the funeral will be held Tuesday.
Sixth-graders from Garden City Middle School, which Catherine attended, held a candlelight vigil outside the home on Wednesday night following a memorial Mass.