A 34-year-old NYPD officer, Besnik Llakatura, was indicted Tuesday, along with two other men, in an alleged extortion scheme that had them threaten at least one Queens restaurant owner, WABC reports.
The unidentified Albanian restaurant owner was allegedly approached by 37-year-old Redinel Dervishaj shortly after opening his new business in Astoria. Dervishaj, who has a criminal history and was the focus of an NYPD manhunt in Staten Island last year, told the restaurant owner he had to pay to "operate in our neighborhood."
Llakatura, reportedly a friend of the restaurant owner, then insisted that he had to pay because, "These people run Astoria." Prosecutors say it's clear that Llakatura was working with Dervishaj.
The restaurant owner and his co-owner went to the FBI. The agency gave them marked bills to pay off Llakatura and the others. They paid the alleged mobsters $24,000 over the course of five months and $6,000 of the collected cash went to Llakatura himself.
“The defendants told their victims they offered 'protection,' but in reality, they peddled fear and intimidation through the Albanian community—their community—of Queens,” said United States Attorney Loretta Lynch in a FBI press release. “When one victim turned to law enforcement for help, he was betrayed again by a corrupt officer on the take, who turned his back on his badge, his oath, and his friend in exchange for extortion money in his pocket.”
The third man indicted in the exhortation case, Denis Nikolla, 33, allegedly threatened the same restaurant owner with a gun.
The three men face charges of extortion, conspiracy, attempted extortion, and brandishing a firearm, authorities said, according to MYFOXNY.
Llakatura has been an officer in the 120th Precinct on Staten Island since 2006 and according to the Daily News, is also suspected of stalking an old mistress. Additionally, he is currently a defendant in a federal lawsuit that alleges he and four other officers beat a black motorist in 2010.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said in a statement released by the FBI that Llakatura abused his badge:
By creating a climate of fear, the defendants allegedly coerced an innocent restaurant owner into paying for so-called protective services. The victim was further betrayed when seeking the assistance of Besnik Llakatura, an NYPD officer whose sinister intentions were shrouded by his badge of honor. But Llakatura didn’t serve his community with honor; he, instead, abused his powers to the detriment of the public trust. He remains an exception to those law enforcement officers who work selflessly to weed out crime and corruption in their communities.
Llakatura's lawyer, Kevin Keating, said that the charges leveled against his client were unrealistic. “There is something very odd about the allegations that make it facially unbelievable that a police officer would involve himself in such a scheme for the grand sum of $6,000,” Keating told reporters with the New York Times outside of the courtroom.
All three men pled not guilty and are currently being held without bail.
Dervishaj's brother, Plaurant, is wanted in Albania for several murders and has ties to organized crime, Newsday reports.