Man pleads guilty to trying to extort $200,000 from Paul Deen

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — A New York man pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to trying to extort $200,000 from Paula Deen by threatening to reveal damaging information about the embattled celebrity cook if she didn’t pay him to stay quiet.

Thomas George Paculis walks by reporters just after pleading guilty to an attempt to extort $200,000 from celebrity cook Paula Deen, in Savannah, Ga.   RUSS BYNUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thomas George Paculis walks by reporters just after pleading guilty to an attempt to extort $200,000 from celebrity cook Paula Deen, in Savannah, Ga.

“I had, I guess, some bad judgment,” Thomas George Paculis, 62, told a U.S. District Court judge in Savannah. “I do take responsibility for what I have done.”

Paculis, of Newfield, acknowledged sending e-mails to Deen’s attorney offering to trade his silence for cash. It came a few days after documents became public that revealed the former Food Network star had said under oath that she used racial slurs in the past.

As Deen’s culinary empire began to crumble, Paculis claimed he could reveal things that would bring her “financial hardship and even ruin,” according to one e-mail that invited Deen’s lawyer to “make me an offer I can’t refuse.”

Neither Paculis nor federal authorities have revealed what sort of dirt the defendant claimed he could dish up regarding Deen or whether he had any at all. He owned a restaurant in Savannah in the 1990s, but Deen told the FBI she didn’t recognize him.

Paculis, who declined to comment to reporters as he left the courthouse, never said why he tried to shake down Deen. An attorney was appointed to defend Paculis when he said he couldn’t afford to hire one. His probation officer told the judge Friday that Paculis had been unemployed for a year.

As he described his actions Friday to Judge William T. Moore Jr., Paculis said that he had hoped to avoid prosecution by persuading Deen’s attorney into paying him to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“I thought that would make this more legal,” Paculis said, though he acknowledged: “I did try to take money from her.”

Paculis faces up to two years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped a second count of the same charge.

No sentencing date has been set, though the judge said it will likely be in several months. He allowed Paculis to remain free on $10,000 bond and return to New York, but he’ll have to submit to electronic monitoring.

Moore is also the presiding judge in the civil lawsuit against Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, by a former employee. Lisa Jackson sued them last year for sexual harassment and discrimination, saying she was surrounded by sexual innuendo and racial slurs when she managed Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, owned by Deen and her brother.

The Food Network and others dropped their business dealings with Deen in June after her legal deposition in the case became public. Answering questions under oath from Jackson’s lawyer, Deen said she had used the N-word in the past. She insisted “it’s been a very long time.”

FBI agent Brad Snider testified that Paculis first contacted Deen’s attorney June 24, just five days after the first news reports on Deen’s deposition. The lawyer contacted the FBI, which directed him to stay in touch with Paculis as agents monitored their email and recorded their phone calls. Authorities say Paculis also emailed Jackson’s attorney, trying to see if he would pay more for information than Deen’s lawyer would for Paculis’ silence.

After Paculis struck a deal with Deen’s attorney to keep quiet for $200,000, the FBI arrested him in New York on July 5.

“It’s reprehensible that someone would offer to sell their testimony in a case,” Moore said from the bench.

Paculis told the judge he’s divorced with two adopted teenage daughters. His attorney, Richard Darden, said Paculis lives with and cares for a woman in her 50s who has Down syndrome. When asked if he had talked with family and friends before deciding to plead guilty, Paculis said: “I’m the only family I have.”

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seenitB4 08/10/13 - 07:59 am
What a jerk

Some just want to kick others in their darkest do they live with that.

tanbaby 08/10/13 - 09:43 am
what information could he

what information could he possibly have that could damage her more than the BS she is going through already has??? and he has been unemployed for more than a year, couldn't afford a lawyer, but now he will have a hefty fine to pay when he gets out of play the game, you pay the price....

GiantsAllDay 08/10/13 - 10:02 am
A jerk? Perhaps. If you read

A jerk? Perhaps. If you read the article, he's lived a pretty miserable life.
Too bad he allowed his problems to attempt to harm another and now he's going to have to suffer the consequences.
"Hurt not others with that which pains yourself."

my.voice 08/10/13 - 12:18 pm
AC - you need to buy an "A".

AC - you need to buy an "A".

Graymare 08/10/13 - 09:42 pm
Typos galore!

The title of the article lists "Paul Deen"!

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