NY man charged with trying to extort Paula Deen

Celebrity chef Paula Deen didn't recognize Thomas George Paculis' name or photograph when contacted by FBI agents.

ATLANTA — Authorities on Friday arrested a New York man charged with trying to extort money from embattled celebrity cook Paula Deen in exchange for not going to the media with “true and damning statements” he said she made.

 

FBI agents and local sheriff’s deputies arrested Thomas George Paculis, 62, of Newfield, N.Y., on Friday morning. A criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Savannah, Ga., charges him with extortion.

The complaint says Paculis was threatening to go to the media with statements made by Deen unless the former Food Network star gave him $250,000. The complaint does not specify what was in the statements Paculis claimed were made by Deen.

Paculis did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment Friday. A call to a phone number for Paculis found in the criminal complaint rang unanswered. He had his initial court appearance Friday in New York and was released on bond, said FBI Special Agent Steve Emmett in Atlanta.

Deen’s business deals began falling apart last month after statements she made when she was questioned under oath in May became public. The questioning was part of a civil lawsuit filed last year by Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, which Deen co-owns with her brother, Bubba Hiers. Jackson says she was sexually harassed and worked in an environment rife with racial slurs and innuendo.

Asked in her deposition whether she had ever used the N-word, Deen replied: “Yes, of course.” But she also insisted “it’s been a very long time.”

Paculis wrote an e-mail to Deen’s lawyer, Greg Hodges, on June 24, several days after Deen’s statements became public, the complaint says. The text of the e-mail is transcribed in the complaint: “I am about to go public with statements refuting your clients statements about using the ‘N’ word in her business practices at Lady and Son’s … The statements are true and damning enough that the case for Jackson will be won on it’s merit alone.”

Paculis went on to say “there is a price for such information” and urges Hodges to contact him by e-mail, the complaint says.

Hodges contacted the FBI to report the e-mail, and the FBI directed him to reply to it. Hodges and Paculis exchanged several e-mails, and Paculis provided several examples of information that he believed “would damage your client in so many ways that it would sink your ship before it left the dock,” the complaint says.

Hodges and Paculis eventually spoke by phone and Paculis said he wanted $250,000 net and didn’t want a paper trail, the complaint says. At the direction of the FBI, Hodges negotiated the amount to $200,000.

 

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