U.S. Surgical chief denies rape claims

June 11, 1994|By Newsday

In an extraordinary pre-emptive strike, the chairman of U.S. Surgical Corp. has issued a news release saying two former housemaids tried to blackmail him for $21 million, claiming he raped them.

A lawyer for Leon Hirsch, 66, called it a "naked shakedown," with the women demanding the huge sum as "hush money." Both women are Hungarian immigrants who worked at Hirsch's home in Westport, Conn., one for almost six years.

"Mr. Hirsch is not a stranger to senseless, meritless, dumb lawsuits," said Hugh Keefe, Mr. Hirsch's Hartford, Conn., lawyer. "People who make $40,000 a year aren't victims of this type of thing. It's only people who have very deep pockets." He said Mr. Hirsch has notified state and federal authorities of the alleged demand for money.

U.S. Surgical, based in Norwalk, Conn., manufactures surgical staplers and other medical tools. It had sales of $1 billion last year. Mr. Hirsch was paid $2.8 million last year.

Westport police spokesman George Marks confirmed that the women, Gizella Biro, 40, and Eva Kale, 36, filed no complaints. That proves the claim is bogus, Mr. Keefe said; "You get raped nowadays, you dial 911."

The women's lawyers declined to discuss specifics, but both issued their own news releases including the names of the women.

Ms. Kale's lawyer, Damaso Saavedra of Hartford, said his client "is in the process of instituting an action against Leon Hirsch alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment." In going public, Mr. Saavedra said, Mr. Hirsch was engaging in damage control.

Ms. Biro's lawyer, Mary Ellen Wynn of Stamford, Conn., said Ms. Biro will file formal complaints next week against Mr. Hirsch and his wife, Turi Josefsen, alleging sexual assault and harassment.

Ms. Biro began working for Mr. Hirsch in late 1988, and Ms. Kale, a friend of hers, was hired last fall. Both quit this year.

The extortion claim stems from letters served on Mr. Hirsch by way of a security guard at U.S. Surgical. The letters, his lawyer said, demanded the $21 million to settle the charges out of court. Mr. Saavedra denied any extortion attempt.

Mr. Hirsch "categorically denies" having sex with Ms. Kale, his lawyer said. He declined to say whether Mr. Hirsch had sex with Ms. Biro. Mr. Keefe said Mr. Hirsch has paid for private boarding school for Ms. Biro's four children.

U.S. Surgical has been a target of animal-rights activists, who protested its use of anesthetized dogs to demonstrate its implements. Mr. Hirsch was the target of an assassination plot in 1988, when an activist planted a pipe bomb near his parking space at the company.

Authorities disarmed the bomb and arrested the woman.

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