(NEW YORK) — A New York man who allegedly tried to extort a $250,000 from former Food Network star Paula Deen was arrested today by federal authorities.
Thomas George Paculis, 62, of Newfield, N.Y., was arrested this morning on an extortion charges, according to a news release from the FBI.
Paculis threatened to disclose “true and damning” statements made by Deen to the media unless the celebrity chef paid him $250,000, according to a federal complaint.
The FBI said it was notified by Deen’s attorney after an email and follow-up phone call were sent to her office threatening to expose information that would “bring hardship and financial ruin” to Deen if it was released.
Paculis is a former resident of Georgia, where Deen lives and has a restaurant.
A call to Deen’s representative was not immediately returned.
Paculis did not answer a call to a cell phone number believed to be connected to him.
Paculis was scheduled to appear in federal court in Savannah, Ga., on July 16, according to the FBI.
Deen has faced criticism in the past few weeks after a lawsuit deposition in which the celebrity chef admitted to using racial slurs.
The self-proclaimed queen of southern cooking and her brother are being sued for racial and sexual discrimination by Lisa Jackson, who worked as a manager of their Savannah, Ga., restaurant. During a deposition in May, Jackson’s lawyer asked Deen whether she’d ever used the n-word. She said she had.
Deen became one of the Food Network’s top stars after she landed her first show, Paula’s Home Cooking, in 2002.
On June 21, The Food Network announced it would not renew Deen’s contract at the end of the month.
Since then, a slew of businesses have severed ties with Deen, including Target and Walmart, along with her book publisher, Ballantine.
In a video apology last month, Deen asked for forgiveness.
“I want to learn and grow from this,” she said. “Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable.
“I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way,” she added, “but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners, I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes that I have made.”
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