SAVANNAH (MCT) — A former Savannah businessman on Monday was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for attempting to extort $200,000 from embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen to keep quiet about damaging testimony he said would “sink her ship before it left the dock” in a pending civil case.
Thomas George Paculis, 62, of Newfield, N.Y., also was ordered to serve a year’s supervised release after completing his prison term and immediately remanded to custody. There is not parole in a federal prison term so Pauculis would be expected to serve most if not all of the sentence.
U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. did not order restitution or impose a fine in the case.
Paculis admitted on Aug. 9 to sending an email to Deen’s then-attorney Greg Hodges on June 27 and communicating the extortion demand.
He admitted to sending messages by email and talking to Hodges on the phone in what Moore characterized as “offer(ing) to sell your testimony to the highest bidder.”
“I did try to take money from him,” Paculis said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Moore had allowed Paculis to remain free on bond pending sentencing.
Moore’s sentence imposed the maximum 24-month sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.
As part of his negotiated plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Newman said the government agreed not to proceed with the first of two counts in the indictment and would make no recommendation on sentencing.
During his articulation before Moore, Paculis blamed “some bad economic times” for his actions and told the judge he asked for a “nondisclosure agreement,” apparently to give it some credibility.
Paculis is a former owner of the Troup Square Cafe on Habersham Street.
FBI Agent Brad Snider testified that Paculis sent an email to Hodges on June 24 telling him to “make me an offer I can’t refuse,” threatening to “bring hardship and financial ruin” to Deen, who was referred to in the indictment as “PD.” The initial request was for $250,000.
Hodges, who initially represented Deen in the federal lawsuit, contacted FBI officials and in a subsequent communication with Paculis monitored by FBI agents the defendant agreed to accept $200,000, Snider said.
Both communications were sent interstate from New York to Georgia, federal prosecutors said. Paculis was arrested July 5 in New York.
The threats were made while Deen was battling a federal lawsuit filed by a former employee of a Deen family business complaining that she was the victim of sexual harassment and a persistent pattern of racial discrimination during her five years employment with Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House Inc. on Whitemarsh Island operated by Deen’s brother, Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers Jr.
The suit was dismissed with prejudice last month.