Man arrested in Paula Deen extortion plot

Published On: Jul 06 2013 09:56:11 AM EDT   Updated On: Jul 06 2013 09:56:28 AM EDT

He was looking to make some dough off Paula Deen, but he bit off more than he could chew.

The FBI busted Thomas Paculis in upstate New York on Friday on charges he tried to extort Deen, the scandal-scarred former Food Network superstar — for $250,000.

Paculis, 62, cooked his own goose when he emailed Deen’s lawyer and demanded cash in exchange for keeping quiet about “true and damning” statements involving the television icon “using the N-word in her business practices,” according to court papers.

Deen, 66, was booted from Food Network and lost endorsement deals in June after admitting she had “of course” used the N-word at one point in the past but not for “a very long time.”

The butter-loving kitchen queen made the confession during a deposition for a civil lawsuit filed in 2012 by a former restaurant employee, Lisa Jackson.

“I am about to go public with statements refuting your (client’s) statements about using the ‘N’ word in her business practices at Lady and Son’s,” Paculis wrote June 24, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Savannah, Ga.

“The statements are true and damning enough that the case for Jackson will be won on (its) merit alone,” he allegedly warned Deen’s lawyer, Greg Hodges.

He had an initial court appearance Friday in New York and was released on bond, the FBI said.

Hodges went straight to the feds with the email and they told the lawyer to string Paculis along. The two exchanged several more emails and eventually spoke over the phone, with Paculis saying he didn’t want a paper trail.

Paculis, who once ran a Savannah eatery himself, provided examples of information he believed “would damage your client in so many ways that it would sink your ship before it left the dock.”

The oddball accused extortionist — who was profiled by the Savannah News-Press in 1995 as a cookbook collector with a personal library of about 300 culinary tomes — told Hodges he was house-sitting in New York, according to the complaint. In a Facebook post in June, Paculis called Deen “raceist.”

Despite their shared Savannah ties, Deen said she didn’t recognize Paculis or his name when FBI agents showed her photos of the suspected schemer.

Hodges eventually bargained him down to $200,000, but Paculis said he didn’t have a car and was unsure how he would collect the cash, the complaint says. And then the accused shakedown artist got greedy, according to the complaint.

On July 1, Paculis allegedly emailed Jackson’s lawyer Matt Billups to suggest they join forces.

“The burning question is … do you want in … I still have the chance to bring this together, but time is slowly running out,” he wrote, the complaint says.

“I have them hooked, but reeling this sucker in is gonna be hard without help. … Give me a call.”

A phone call and email to Paculis went unanswered Friday, and a relative reached by phone declined to comment.


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