Man charged with attempting to extort Paula Deen

A New York man, formerly from Savannah, is accused of attempting to extort money from Paula Deen.

Paula Deen

Paula Deen

ATLANTA — A former Savannah resident has been arrested in Ithaca, N.Y., for an attempt to extort money from Albany native Paula Deen, federal authorities say.

Special Agent in Charge Mark F. Giuliano, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta, along with FBI Special Agent in Charge C Andrew Vale, of Albany, announced Friday the arrest of Thomas George Paculis, 62, for what authorities said was an extortion scheme targeting Deen, a celebrity chef and Savannah restaurant owner.

The FBI release stated that Paculis was arrested by Ithaca, N.Y.-based FBI agents who acted with deputies from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office in Newfield, N.Y. Officers were acting on a federal criminal complaint filed by FBI Atlanta’s Savannah Resident Agency charging Paculis with extortion, officials said.

According to the federal criminal complaint, filed in the the Southern District of Georgia on June 24, the FBI Atlanta’s Savannah Resident Agency was notified through Deen’s attorney of the receipt by their office of an email and follow-up telephone call showing that Paculis was attempting to extort Deen for $250,000 in compensation in return for not disclosing “true and damning” statements made by Deen to the media. Paculis indicated that his information would bring hardship and financial ruin to Deen, the release stated.

The FBI release did not state the nature of any relationship Paculis may have had with Deen or the nature of the statements Paculis threatened to disclose.

Deen’s career has taken a hit since she disclosed in a deposition that she had used the n-word in the past, specifically in the late 1980s when a black gunman held up the Albany bank at which she was a teller.

That led to a firestorm as the Food Network refused to renew her contract and retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, J.C. Penney and Kmart dropped her branded products. She also lost contracts as a spokesperson for Smithfield Foods and Novo Nordisk, a restaurant deal with Caesars Entertainment and a book deal with Ballantine Books, the latter coming despite the fact that her pending cookbook had already shot to the top on online retailer Amazon’s list.

Officials say that subsequent to his arrest, Paculis was transported to the Onondaga County, N.Y., Jail and detained pending his initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate. In addition, Paculis was scheduled to appear before a U.S. magistrate in Savannah on July 16 at 9 a.m.