A former Savannah, Georgia businessman who attempted to extort $200,000 from embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen was sentenced Monday to 24 months in federal prison.
Thomas George Paculis, 62, of Newfield, N.Y., urged Deen to keep quiet about damaging testimony he said would “sink her ship before it left the dock” in a pending civil case.
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Paculis also was ordered to serve a year’s supervised release after completing his prison term and immediately remanded to custody, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Since Paculis is going to federal prison, he will not get parole. 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 communicating the extortion demand to Deen’s then-attorney Greg Hodges on June 27 via email, urging him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The FBI tracked Paculis and he was charged with two counts of extortion. He was arrested July 5. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped one of the two charges.
On June 24, Paculis sent an email to Hodges telling him to “make me an offer I can’t refuse” and threatening to “bring hardship and financial ruin” to Deen unless he was paid $250,000, FBI Agent Brad Snider testified. He was arrested July 5.
The threats came at a time when Deen was embroiled in a lawsuit against a former employee at her Savannah restaurant over racial discrimination claims. Deen lost all of her endorsements when she admitted to using racial slurs in the past during her testimony. The judge dismissed the racial discrimination part of the case.
Paculis told Moore he was going through “some bad economic times” at the time, according to the Savannah Morning News.
It is unclear what Paculis claimed to know about Deen. When the FBI showed Deen a photo of Paculis, she said he didn't recognize him or his name.
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Paculis is a former owner of the Troup Square Cafe in Savannah.
Deen made a tearful public appearance on Saturday, for the first time since June, at a cooking show in Houston, Texas. On Thursday, she will make another appearance, at her City Market restaurant in Savannah. She will be promoting her son Jamie’s new cookbook, "Jamie Deen's Good Food."
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