4:09pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Alleged Paula Deen Extortionist Arrested
The FBI has announced that it has arrested a New York man in connection with an attempt to extort Paula Deen.
The celebrity chef has been under public fire since her deposition leaked in an ongoing harassment lawsuit brought by former restaurant worker Lisa Jackson. Deen has had to defend herself against charges she used the N-word, and her contract with the Food Network was not renewed.
Thomas Paculis, 62, is said to have made contact with Deen's lawyer in June with threats.
According the complaint, Paculis wrote in an e-mail, "I am about to go public with statements refuting your clients [sic] 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 [sic] merit alone..."
Paculis added, "There is a price for such information..."
Greg Hodges, attorney for Deen, then contacted the FBI, who encouraged further dialogue.
Eventually, the two are said to have gotten on the phone, and Paculis demanded $250,000. Hodges negotiated it down to $200,000.
Paculis is later said to have contacted Jackson's lawyer, Matthew Billips, and told him by e-mail, "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..."
Paculis was arrested in Newfield, N.Y., where he lives. The defendant formerly resided in the Savannah and Augusta, Ga., areas.
According to reports, Deen told the FBI she didn't know him.
Paculis is scheduled to appear in a Savannah court on July 16.
Since coming under fire last month after admitting to having used racial slurs in the past, a number of companies have cut ties with Deen, including Walmart, Sears and Home Depot. Ballantine Book announced June 28 it was canceling publication of her upcoming cook book, Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.