The latest in the chronicles of celebrity chef Paula Deen involves an alleged extortion plot that led to a New York man's arrest.
FBI agents arrested Thomas George Paculis, 62, on suspicion of making threats to expose "true and damning" information about Deen. Paculis allegedly claimed he would only keep quiet if he were paid.
According to a complaint, Paculis emailed Deen's lawyer five days after her infamous deposition transcript went public. In the email, Paculis claimed that he was going to reveal details about Deen's use of the "N word" at one of her restaurants, and added: "As always ... there is a price for such confirmation."
What Is Extortion?
According to CNN, Paculis allegedly sought $250,000 in hush money, but later agreed to a lesser sum of $200,000.
Paculis is a former resident of Savannah, Georgia, where Deen's businesses began. It's not clear if he actually has valid information or is just trying to cut himself a piece of the pie in light of Deen's recent legal troubles.
But one thing is for sure: He'll likely have a hard time fighting his extortion charge.
Extortion is a criminal offense that's typically defined as the unlawful gaining of money or property by any kind of threat, physical or otherwise. The threats can come in many forms, like threats of property damage or a tarnished reputation. Blackmail is a common form of extortion.
Ingredients for a Potential Defense
Like all other crimes, extortion is coupled with many available defenses.
One possible strategy could involve an affirmative defense, which is admitting to the actual crime, but justifying it or explaining it. For example, someone who claims insanity could admit to stealing from someone, but cite mental illness as the reason he was unable to understand why his action was wrong. If jurors believe him, he could potentially get a lesser sentence, or be committed to a mental hospital.
Another potential defense to extortion is a lack of intent. So if Paculis' lawyer can somehow prove he was just joking, for example, then he may be off the hook. Paculis could also try to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecutors' evidence.
Paculis, who was released on bond, could not be reached for comment by reporters. He is set to appear in court next week in Savannah.
- Man tries to blackmail Paula Deen in $250,000 extortion plot (New York Daily News)
- Jennier Lopez Lawsuit Seeks $20M for Blackmail (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Paula Deen Cites Gay Marriage Ruling to Fend Off Lawsuit (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- How Did Paula Deen's Deposition Go Public? (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)