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Banking Porn / January 25, 2010

nicholas deak coin1

Gold coin issued by Nicholas Deak at the peak of the last gold boom

While working on my upcoming book out here in the High Desert, I went off on one of those research tangents that led me to an old Time article about the bizarre murder, 25 years ago, of a man Time once called “the James Bond of the world of money.” The murderer was a classic  ”lone nut” of the sort who conveniently appear every now and then to take out inconvenient people. But unlike other lone nuts who may or may not have been part of some bigger conspiracy, this particular lone-nut murderer–a homeless schizophrenic woman who somehow trekked thousands of miles to kill Nicholas Deak–creeped me out for very personal reasons. Back in 2002, when I was facing the scariest and most serious death threat in all  of The eXile’s 11 years, I was told exactly how I would be killed–and the details described to me have an eery similarity to the way Nicholas Deak was murdered. 

First, the murder: On November 18, 1985, a homeless woman from Seattle walked into the Manhattan headquarters of Deak-Perera–which had been the largest foreign exchange company in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the largest gold brokers–and she shot and killed the company’s founder, 80-year-old Nicholas Deak. The murderer was a 44-year-old woman diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic,” who had a history of trouble with the local police in Seattle. Somehow, just as Deak’s firm was destroyed by the Reagan Administration’s allegations of mass-money laundering, this homeless paranoid-schizophrenic decided to travel thousands of miles away, through Illinois, down to Orlando where she bought a .38 caliber gun, then up to Manhattan, and into the rump Deak-Perera headquarters on 29 Broadway. She took the elevator up to the 15th floor, walked in, killed the receptionist, then killed Deak, muttering, “Now you’ve got yours,” before a policeman tackled her and disarmed her.

Under most circumstances this might be just another random murder, as American as apple pie– bad luck for Nicholas Deak. Except that Deak wasn’t just any rich banker. At one time, Deak was a major figure in the American intelligence community, and later, in the 1970s and 80s, he was major drug money launderer for Colombian drug lords. Put Deak’s huge foreign exchange network and gold brokerage business into that mix–as well as Reagan’s cocaine-for-contras program, in which the CIA sold crack cocaine to America’s blacks, and used the profits to buy weapons for Nicaraguan rebels–and you start to understand how unlikely it is that someone like Deak, the nexus between intelligence and money laundering, was killed so randomly by a lone nut from the other side of the continent.

Nicholas Deak was born into a wealthy Hungarian family in 1905, and he moved to America in the late 1930s as the Nazis geared up for conquest. Deak, a polyglot and economics whiz, joined the American war effort by enlisting in the OSS, which later became the C.I.A. By 1945, Deak rose up to the top ranks of the OSS, running missions in the Balkans and Southeast Asia. As an example of how high up Deak was, when the Japanese surrendered in Burma, they surrendered to Nicholas Deak.

Later in 1945, when Vietnam’s communist guerrillas started to rise up against the French occupiers, Washington sent Deak out to assess the situation, line up support for the French colonial forces, and “observe” French counter-insurgency operations.

Deak returned to the US and started up his foreign currency and gold-trading firm. According to one book, when the CIA needed to launder money for its 1953 coup in Iran, it used Deak-Perera.

By 1964, Time magazine was swooning over Deak as the prototypical sexy spy character, only a real-life version:

He lives in a Scarsdale mansion in stead of a London flat, and never ever packs a shoulder-bolstered Walther PPK automatic. But there is more than a soupçon of the fictional counterspy in trim, urbane Nicholas Deak, who is the James Bond of the world of money.

Things went so well for Deak that by the late 1970s, as gold fever swept the country, people were lining up to buy gold coins with Nicholas Deak’s profile stamped on the coin (see above). According to a 1978 Time magazine article:

Clients crowd his Hong Kong branch offices to buy newly minted “Deak Dollars,” small gold coins that command premium prices because they are stamped with Deak’s aquiline features. Other customers stand in line at his 42nd Street outlet in Manhattan to buy gold coins and Swiss franc traveler’s checks, which they stash away as investments.

But then it all came crashing down in 1984 when Deak was accused of laundering tens of millions of drug money dollars, much of it in the company’s New York offices. It was in the middle of the whole Scarface/cocaine/Contras era, when Reagan was looking for a good money launderer to finance his sleazy war in Nicaragua. At the same time, Reagan was cracking down on other money launderers not on their favored list. Maybe Deak wasn’t being cooperative because in 1984, a Reagan-appointed commission on money-laundering accused Deak of laundering tens or hundreds of millions of drug dollars, and within a year, Deak-Perera was bankrupted and sold off in pieces, and Nicholas Deak was murdered in his office.

Who was this murderer, Lois Lang? The day after the killing, the New York Times offered up the cleanest, tried-and-true explanation for all suspicious murders:

SUSPECT IN DEAK-PERERA KILLINGS HAD BEEN IN MENTAL HOSPITAL, OFFICIALS SAY

The woman charged with murdering the head of the Deak-Perera foreign-exchange company and a receptionist in Manhattan was released from a mental hospital last August in Washington State, law-enforcement officials said yesterday.

A spokesman for the University of Washington Police Department in Seattle said the woman, Lois Lang, had been arrested at least five times in the Seattle area since 1982 and had once tried to wrest a gun from a police officer.

The spokesman, Sgt. Forest T. Franklin, said Miss Lang was known to the university police as a derelict who tramped through the campus at night, slept in university buildings when they opened in the daytime and stole food from the student cafeteria.

”She once mentioned to one of our officers that she was going to New York one day to set up her empire and rule the world,” Sergeant Franklin said in a telephone interview.

It’s certainly possible that a man as powerful and murky as Deak, with as many big secrets he held, could have been killed by a “lone nut” who randomly happened to come all the way from Seattle to Orlando to Manhattan and shoot him. But that story strains belief.

I wouldn’t really give a shit about Deak’s murder myself if the way he was killed didn’t trigger a bad flashback to Moscow. It was 2002, I was running The eXile almost alone because Taibbi and Krazy Kevin split to start up a paper in Buffalo right when this problem started to heat up. After a few months, it snowballed into something serious, and then scary. I was determined not to give in, and the very night that I was about to publish an aggressive article slamming the goons and daring them to kill me, a good Russian friend called me to tell me that they were going to take up my dare and I was a dead man if I didn’t back down quickly. This friend, I’ll call him Pavlik, was by this time nearly an oligarch in terms of his power and money (I’d known him back in the mid-90s when he was looking for work). He’d heard about how I was confronting people from a particular grupperovka, told me at 3am to stop production of the newspaper and cancel my articles, and had his driver pick me up from The eXile’s offices.

I was driven to a bar where Pavlik was waiting, along with two old pals of his who were on the criminal-underworld side of Moscow’s economy. When I walked in, they all gave me an almost embarrassed look, something like pity, and that’s when I realized I’d fucked up. I was already a dead man–and one of the stupidest they’d ever come across.

“Don’t you know who these fucking people are?” Pavlik said. “Listen, Mark, this isn’t a game, mate. [He always preferred the British "mate" to our "dude."] It doesn’t matter that you’re American–they don’t give a fuck about your passport. You will 100 percent for sure be killed if you do not back down now and do everything as I say. You understand? You will be killed. I don’t want to see you die. I don’t know how else to make this clear to you, mate. I’ve already seen plenty of it, and I don’t want to see it again. It’s not worth it, mate. You can’t win, you’re just fucked. That’s what these people do. And let me tell you how they will kill you, so that you understand. Because I know, okay? These fuckers, they won’t shoot you today, they won’t shoot you tomorrow. It won’t happen like that. They won’t break into your flat and kill you. They’ll do it in a way that no one would think of the connection. They will wait and it will look random, totally random. Six months from now, a year, two years from now, whatever is most convenient for them, some random thing will happen to you. You’ll be walking down a street, and some crazy bomzh with a knife will just fucking stab you, okay? Or some junkie will just stick you with an infected needle. Or a brick will fall from a construction site. It will look like an accident, or like something completely random, and that will be it. You’ll be fucking dead.”

Seeing Pavlik switching from hysteria to resignation was enough to convince me. I took his advice to the T, and he rescued my ass (so far at least). He talked to his people, who talked to their people. Money was paid, apologies were written. I sure as fuck didn’t want to die like that, knifed by some Russian homeless person, for no apparent reason.

Reading about Deak’s murder, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey! I recognize that! It’s a hit job!”

According to one report, Deak didn’t die right away after being shot. He died later, just as he arrived at the hospital. For such a crazy woman, she wasn’t a bad shot–one to the receptionist’s head, one to Deak’s heart, both fatal (and a couple of strays). She even got off her final line, “Now you’ve got yours.” It’s as though she was speaking someone else’s words.

Either that, or she was just crazy just as the reports said. And it was all just a bizarre and tragic death that needs no explaining.

Correction: Deak was murdered on November 18, 1985, and not November 19. The article has been corrected to reflect this.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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49 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Phil  |  January 25th, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    What’s the new book about?

  • 2. Sublime Oblivion  |  January 25th, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Just when my respect for you was at an all time high thanks to the glorious riots you cyber-inspired, you come out with this pusillanimity. Respect partially withdrawn.

  • 3. Not important  |  January 25th, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    The men who were Thursday…

  • 4. WE  |  January 25th, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    This article has what’s been missing from the Exile since you avoided another potential junkie spike to the eye by leaving Moscow. There’s been a lot of rage (understandably) since your return to the air-conditioned nightmare but this is the first time in a while you’ve written something other than FUCK YOU masked as social, economic or political commentary. Glad to see you back. Now I’ll go fuck myself for writing that.

  • 5. Alex_C  |  January 25th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Orlov is right.

  • 6. Grimgrin  |  January 25th, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    There was a wonderful concept for how to arrange those hits in a Bruce Sterling book called “Distraction. Basically a computer program identifies a couple thousand mentally unstable possibly violent people, and then starts relentlessly mailing them information about how the target is a pedophile/communist/hippie/ACORN organizer whatever. Eventually one of their delusions clicks in the right way and they go out and kill the target.

    Probably just a fantasy. Still.

  • 7. anonymous coward  |  January 25th, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t know, I remember another loan nut, one inspired by the film Taxi Driver, who almost became America’s Greatest Hero back in those days.

    Now, obviously, I’m not talking about John Hinkley Junior, who shot Reagan, which was evil and wrong of course.

    We all thank Schopenhauer’s God that Reagan survived to inflict, or rather bless, America with his program.

    I’m talking about some other lone nut who was inspired by Taxi Driver and shared a last name with The Greatest American Hero.

    Not Hinkley, though. No way. Nothing to see here Mr. Secret Service man.

  • 8. doctor k  |  January 25th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    @3, word haha

  • 9. james parrott  |  January 25th, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    It seems these lone nuts appear an awful lot in American–and its spheres of interest–history. Take the Seattle cop killer recently; Mark David Chapman; Hinckley; Sirhan; Oswald; Ray. I always where they get their money to drift around and commit foul deeds.

  • 10. smitty  |  January 25th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    One thing that no one seems to know is that John Hinckley’s family was very close to George H. W Bush (Bush Sr)’s family.

    The night after John Hinckley shot Reagan, his brother Scott Hinckley was scheduled to have dinner at Neil Bush’s house:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hinckley,_Jr.#Bush-Hinckley_family_connections

  • 11. gyges  |  January 26th, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Deak’s name has been put forward for addition to the Conspiraloon’s ,Sudden Adult Death Syndrome list.

  • 12. fajensen  |  January 26th, 2010 at 1:17 am

    And you never once suspected that Pavlik was the man “they” gave the job of sorting you out?

    The driver would have killed you on the way back if you had not backed down (and they would have done so on the way *to* the 3AM meeting had you not known Pavlik).

  • 13. Philip Pilkington  |  January 26th, 2010 at 4:57 am

    I dunno, looks like a random crazy killing to me. Paranoid schizophrenics “read” things into their environments – “You see that wood stain on my desk? Well its really an Illuminati message that tells me exactly how the world’s gonna end!!!” (Incidentally, the similarity to 9/11 truthers is not a coincidence…).

    Now imagine a crazy who intends on creating an empire. Now imagine that crazy encounters a spook with his head engraved on a gold coin. Now THAT guy’s got the power.

    He’s involved in the CIA – who are probably tapping into the crazy’s brain.

    And he’s got his face engraved on gold coins. You know how the paranoid love their gold – if you don’t I invite you to type the following into Google: ‘Gold Conspiracy New World Order’. (Incidentally the similarity to hardcore libertarian “economic theorists is not without coincidence).

    Anyway, after constructing his delusion around this CIA man that’s made of gold our schizophrenic friend sets out on the journey of their lives.

    I don’t think people would use crazies to do hits. They’re way too unpredictable. Seriously, I worked in a psyche ward for a while. If you saw just how unstable and unpredictable schizophrenics are you wouldn’t even trust them to feed themselves, let alone bust a cap in someone’s ass.

  • 14. Terry Smith  |  January 26th, 2010 at 6:00 am

    I bought Dr Deak’s book, for sale at his kiosk at Yorkdale Shopping Center in Toronto.

    He had a PhD in international Finance from a Swiss university.

    The book was tough going but I intended to read it and correspond with him as I was interested in options trading etc at the time. Hoped to learn something.

    Almost immediately after I got started he got killed….

  • 15. Gerald  |  January 26th, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Ames blames the freaky Deaky for blacks’ crack.

  • 16. do not matters does not matter  |  January 26th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    this gold is for them all SCREWED-UP-bakers(aka Bankers!)….. While! “”SILVER! IS FOR COMMON PEOPLES”".

  • 17. Bill N  |  January 26th, 2010 at 10:22 am

    The Buffalo Beast is garbage compared to the mighty Exiled! The Exiled is better than ever. Give these guys some money.

  • 18. nampa1  |  January 26th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    I always wondered why Buffalo was chosen for the Beast. I went to school there. It is a good microcosm for what’s wrong with America, but were there personal connections? How did Taibbi get that job with Rolling Stone afterwards?

  • 19. 16 Shells from a 30.06  |  January 26th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    All of this reads like a study of Occam’s Razor violations.

  • 20. LIExpressway  |  January 26th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SENATORS_OFFICE_ARRESTS?SITE=ORAST&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

    Echoes from the past…

  • 21. To fight evil  |  January 26th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Good article and piece of investigative journalism for a change.

    After writing this I can expect this comment not to be published and replaced by one of Marks “witty” comments.

    “Boo!”

  • 22. Seymour Butz  |  January 26th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    The High desert? You move in with Levine?

    Seriously don’t do this to me man. I like to imagine that somebody can keep it real without being enveloped by the pod hordes. If you were evicted from NYC what hope is there for any of us? WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR HUMANITY?

  • 23. Yeah  |  January 26th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    @19 agreed…

  • 24. good 'ol johnny  |  January 26th, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    This is the kind of shit that drew me to Ames in the first place. No frontin. No attitude. Just honesty. Like that first article about how his dad died with all those hospice fuckers around, and how pathetic it was, and how he packed up for Russia as soon as that casket was underground. I’m waitin on that new book, man.

  • 25. Carlito  |  January 26th, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    So he was a gold bug arguing for sound money… Strange for a rich banker.

  • 26. Fischbyne  |  January 26th, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Trippy, dude. The best antidote for this kind of thing is Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style of American Politics.”

  • 27. subzero  |  January 27th, 2010 at 2:10 am

    He got to be a real spook, he got seriously wealthy in a questionable way, he even had his own gold coins minted AND he got to live for 80 years. Respect!

  • 28. chugs  |  January 27th, 2010 at 2:41 am

    hmmmm Ames, next you’ll be telling us that the government lied about Iraq and WMDs and that America invaded Iraq in a diabolical plot that depended on brainwashing hundreds of millions Americans that they were in imminent danger and that Saddam was the devil, thereby programming them to get behind a mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. That, however, couldn’t possibly happen–only a wacko would think it could be possible. I’m going to read the Washington Post from now on, they at least don’t dabble in fanciful conspiracies.

  • 29. timmy  |  January 27th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I thought the usual MO was to just shoot the journalist, like Klebnikov and Politskaya.

  • 30. good 'ol johnny  |  January 27th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Really, though. This article’s got a real cool vibe.

  • 31. FOARP  |  January 28th, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Dude, go back to Russia. Or as close as you can get without contracting a bad case of ice-pick.

  • 32. JIm Buck  |  January 28th, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Mate, you often radvise your audience to stiffen-up and bump off the rich and filthy. This woman did just that. Interesting, though, that she was named: “Lois Lang”–you ever read Superman comics?

  • 33. Super Mang  |  January 28th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    So, where is Lois Lang today?

  • 34. Super Mang  |  January 28th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Oh, I found her, she’s still in custody:

    LANG, LOIS DOB:01/28/1941 IN CUSTODY – BEDFORD HILL IN NY

  • 35. chugs  |  January 29th, 2010 at 1:50 am

    what the hell?

    who is number 34? I could sworn i wrote a post that started with hmmm ames but then went on to also make fun Ames re the John Lennon, CIA, Stephen King conspiracy that also conspired to use a crazy men, imbue him with the fear that John Lennon was the devil, and in turn this would result in the all to predictable murder of the target.

    either i’m tripping out or someone edited my post

  • 36. JIm Buck  |  January 29th, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Happy Birthday Lois!

  • 37. az  |  January 29th, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    man if i lived in cali i would just smoke fat blunts and play modern warfare 2 all day. kind of like i do here, except not getting sick because of this damn east coast weather.

  • 38. Stef  |  January 31st, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    ‘Mate” is an Australian word, not a British word.

  • 39. captain america  |  February 3rd, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    @31

    i’ve been telling ames for years (ok, just once, a few months ago) that he should move to eastern ukraine. it’s essentially the same as russia, or at least that’s what everyone told me when i lived there. i honestly don’t understand why he doesn’t. i probably will eventually, and i don’t hate america half as much as ames does.

  • 40. urmom  |  February 8th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Ames is welcome in Russia as long as he directs his agitation in a direction acceptable to the powers that be, that direction being the evil incarnate USofA naturally.

  • 41. Amos  |  February 26th, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Ames is welcome in Russia, because he was honest about the Ossetian War. But if Ames wants a daily hooker, Western Ukraine is the place to be, even their candidate is a hooker.

  • 42. Michael Steinberg  |  May 18th, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Nicholas L Deak was my professor at New York Law School. He taught international banking . That was 1976-1977. I got an A. Everyone really wanted a job with his organization; no one got one.

  • 43. Bklynspice  |  September 10th, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I do remember, because I use to work for Deak in Washington DC office. It was a job everyone enjoyed working in, he was very nice man, and the work environment was awesome. It shocked us all when he was murdered, his connections with Miami cost us all our jobs which was another sad day. RIP Mr. Deak.

  • 44. Zorkon  |  September 13th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    “All of this reads like a study of Occam’s Razor violations.”

    The main exception to Occam’s Razor is a frame-up job.

    Intelligence agencies excel at frame-up jobs.

  • 45. Richard Mendes  |  January 10th, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    I remember the event. I knew Nick as a saber fencer at the Westchester Fencer’s Club, which met weekly at a school in Scarsdale. A bizarre ending to a bizarre life.

  • 46. panamachele  |  July 18th, 2012 at 9:18 am

    RIP Uncle Nick….
    I know Grandma is cooking our favorite Transylvania Soul dishes.. Miss you dearly..

  • 47. James  |  August 20th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    About Mr. Deak….. My Ex-wife was Mr. Deaks secretary around this time. Leslie, Mr Deaks son, informed my wife that she would be HIS secretary allowing the receptionist, Florence to move into her position and my wife would move to an upper floor. Not long after I received a call from my Ex informing me of the tragedy. I think her name was florence… she was a sweet lady. I couldn’t believe it. My children were spared from losing their mother at a cost to another.

  • 48. Toba  |  December 2nd, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    It’s called, His just desserts. He was a vicious dog who ran around with wolves and understood with his dying breath that he really was not one of them.
    Mr Deak though his glorious war and intrigue years and experience were sufficient to cow or impress the gangsters and fascists he did business with but alas!

  • 49. Bemused  |  June 4th, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    He had an estate and a limo but evidently no security whatsoever. He should have brought some of his Burmese buddies back with him, they would have sorted out that wack-job manchurian candidate killer before she got in the front door.


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