Valdosta Daily Times

State News

August 10, 2013

Man pleads guilty in Deen extortion case

SAVANNAH — 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.

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

Paculis, of Newfield, acknowledged sending emails to Deen’s attorney offering to trade his silence for cash in June. 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 email 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 if he truly had any at all. He owned a restaurant in Savannah in the 1990s, but Deen told the FBI she didn’t recognize his name or his face.

Paculis, who declined to comment to reporters as he left the courthouse, also never said why he tried to shake down Deen. It’s possible he just needed money. An attorney was appointed to defend Paculis last month when he said he couldn’t afford to hire one. And 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 at times seemed to have trouble explaining himself. He 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 also acknowledged: “I did try to take money from her.”

A spokeswoman for Deen, Elana Weiss, did not immediately return a phone call and email message seeking comment.

Paculis faces up to two years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to one count of using interstate communications to try to extort money. 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.”

 

1
Text Only
State News
  • Kingston, Perdue make final pitch in Senate race

    U.S. Senate hopefuls Jack Kingston and David Perdue hit every corner of the state in one final scramble before Georgia Republicans will choose one of them to take on Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn this fall in one of the nation’s most significant midterm election matchups.

    July 22, 2014

  • Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

    Neither Republican running in Georgia’s closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state’s most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ahead of Tuesday’s runoff.

    July 21, 2014

  • Kingston, Perdue: Teamwork begins after runoff

    Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston have plenty of criticisms for each other as they appeal for votes ahead of Georgia’s Republican Senate primary runoff.

    July 20, 2014

  • Senate-Georgia_Rich copy.jpg Kingston, Perdue offer few details on budget fixes

    Neither Rep. Jack Kingston nor businessman David Perdue has detailed a clear course for changing the nation’s fiscal situation, instead broadly railing against government spending and debt in their campaign for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gavel-courtroom.jpg Republican Senate hopefuls clash in Sunday debate

    Georgia Republican Senate candidates Jack Kingston and David Perdue sharpened their attacks on each other during a heated debate Sunday with just over a week to go before their runoff election.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • FAA: Small plane accident in Ga. woods

    The Federal Aviation Administration says a small plane has been destroyed by fire in an accident in a wooded area of western Georgia and that two people were aboard.

    July 13, 2014

  • Candidates discuss Common Core

    The Associated Press sat down recently with the two Republicans competing for Georgia’s open Senate seat to discuss three key issues. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue will meet in a runoff July 22, and the winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the fall.

    July 7, 2014

  • Perdue, Kingston talk taxes

    July 6, 2014

  • 5 killed in northeast Georgia crash

    Three children ages 2, 8 and 13 were among the five people who were killed in a wrong-way crash on a highway in northeastern Georgia Monday, state police said.

    July 1, 2014

  • New laws start July 1

    During the most recent legislative session, state lawmakers proposed 615 pieces of legislation. Of those, 305 bills passed with Gov. Nathan Deal signing the vast majority of them into law. Some became law upon the governor’s signature, while a large number take effect on July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year. A summary of some of the major bills set to take effect July 1:

    June 30, 2014

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results