A Newfield, N.Y., man was arrested Friday for allegedly attempting to extort money from celebrity chef Paula Deen in exchange for not going public with “damning” statements Deen is purported to have made, according to multiple media reports. The man, Thomas George Paculis, 62, was picked up by FBI agents and local sheriff’s deputies after a criminal complaint was lodged against him in a federal court in Savannah, Ga., Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Paculis allegedly demanded that Deen, who has been embroiled in controversy since admitting last month that she has used racial slurs in the past, fork over $250,000 or else he would tell news media about other statements she is said to have made, which presumably would land her in even more hot water.
The criminal complaint leading to Paculis’ arrest indicated he had sent an email to Deen’s attorney, Greg Hodges, on June 24 saying he would go public with the “damning” statements unless Deen paid him hush money. “I am about to go public with statements refuting your clients statements about using the ‘N’ word in her business practices at Lady and Son’s ... The statements are true and damning enough that the case for Jackson will be won on it’s merit alone,” AP quoted Paculis as saying in the email.
Paculis had an initial court appearance Friday, when he was released on bond. He is scheduled to appear in a Savannah court July 16, AP reported.
Deen’s business empire has been falling apart ever since she admitted to using the “N” word in a civil lawsuit disposition last month. The lawsuit was filed by Lisa Jackson -- a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, a business that Deen co-owns with her brother, Bubba Hiers -- whose legal submissions suggested the work environment at the restaurant was replete with racial slurs.
According to AP, Paculis had also sent an email to Jackson’s lawyer, Matt Billips, saying he had convinced Deen to give him money: “Now the burning question is ... do you want in ... I still have the chance to bring this together, but time is slowly running out ... I have them hooked, but reeling this sucker in is gonna be hard without help ... give me a call.”
Keerthi Mohan is an IBTimes reporter covering entertainment and human interest stories.