A New York restaurant owner gave thousands of dollars to three men who threatened to hurt him if he didn't pay for their protection, according to new federal charges.
All three men charged in the case—Redinel Dervishaj, Besnik Llakatura, and Denis Nikolla—allegedly used a gun to intimidate the restaurant owner, located in Astoria, Queens, into giving them money, according to Gothamist.com. One of the men, Llakatura, was a New York City police officer and has been suspended without pay due to the charges that he used his law enforcement position to extort money.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said the men “peddled fear” by targeting other Albanians in their community and forcing them to pay money “for protection.”
The high-profile extortion charges offer a glimpse into a rare, but scary, risk that business owners may face. Particularly in tight-knit communities, such as those with high populations of immigrants from the same country, business owners may feel more vulnerable to such intimidation and pressure to hand over money.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) described the scheme:
The scheme began shortly after the victim opened a restaurant in Astoria when he was visited by Dervishaj and told that he had opened a business in “our neighborhood” and, as a result, “you have to pay us.” The restaurant owner, who understood that he was targeted because he, like the defendants, is of Albanian descent, sought help from his friend Llakatura. Unbeknownst to him, Llakatura, an NYPD officer on Staten Island since 2006, was conspiring with Dervishaj in the extortion.
Llakatura discouraged the restaurant owner from going to the police and sought to leverage his position to persuade the victim that he had no choice but to make the demanded payments. When the victim resisted, he was threatened with physical violence and chased at gunpoint down the street in Queens by Nikolla.
Other cases of extortion claims by business owners have similar themes. Earlier this year in Phoenix, three men were accused of targeting Vietnamese-owned businesses in their community and threatening violence if they weren’t given money. One business, Ken’s Nails, was told the business owed the men $10,000 in debt for nail salon chairs that had already been settled, according to AZFamily.com.
But extortion can take all forms—and it’s not just among local business communities. Some business owners have filed an appeal in federal court claiming that online review site Yelp used extortion to pressure them into giving money to the site to improve their online reputation.
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