Denis Nikolla pleaded guilty to two counts of Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy, one count of threatening physical violence in furtherance of an extortion plan, and one count of brandishing a firearm. The proceeding took place before United States District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano. When sentenced, Nikolla faces up to life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years. One of his co-defendants, Besnik Llakatura, who served as a police officer with the New York City Police Department during the charged crimes, previously pleaded guilty in this case.
The plea was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office, and William J. Bratton, Commissioner, New York Police Department.
According to prior court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, between May and November 2013, Nikolla, Llakatura and their co-defendant conspired and attempted to extort a Queens restaurant owner, demanding regular payments in exchange for so-called “protection.” The extortion began shortly after the victim opened a restaurant in Astoria when he was visited by the co-defendant and told that he had opened a business in “our neighborhood” and, as a result, “you have to pay us” $4,000 per month. The restaurant owner sought help from his friend Llakatura.
Unbeknownst to him, Llakatura, an NYPD officer in Staten Island since 2006, was conspiring with the co-defendant in the extortion. Llakatura actively discouraged the restaurant owner from going to the police and sought to leverage his position of trust as a friend and a police officer to persuade the victim that he had no choice but to make the demanded payments, warning the victim that the co-defendant and his associates would physically harm him if he did not pay. When the victim resisted, Nikolla threatened him with physical violence and chased him at gunpoint down the street in Queens. Over the course of five months, each of the three defendants took turns collecting monthly payments from the Astoria restaurant owner, ultimately collecting $24,000 in so-called protection money.
Between April 2012 and November 2013, Nikolla and the co-defendant also conspired and attempted to extort the proceeds of two nightclubs located in Queens, New York, and used a firearm in their efforts to do so. In or about April 2012, around the time that one of the clubs was opened, Nikolla approached the owner with an extortion demand, indicating to the victim that other businesses in the area were paying him for so-called “protection.” Nikolla demanded $200 per week from the owner for each of the two nightclubs. After the owner refused to pay, Nikolla retrieved a firearm from the codefendant’s side, stuck the firearm in owner’s ribs, and informed the owner that if he wasn’t paid, Nikolla would come to the owner’s house and beat up the owner in front of the owner’s wife and children.
Finally, during 2013, Nikolla, Llakatura, and the co-defendant also conspired and attempted to extort a proprietor of two social clubs in Astoria. Nikolla, accompanied by the co-defendant, made the initial extortion demand, seeking payments of $1,000 per week from the proprietor for so-called “protection.” The proprietor refused to make the demanded payments and ceased going to his social clubs out of fear for his safety. Court-authorized wiretaps of the defendants’ telephones revealed evidence of Nikolla’s participation in this extortion conspiracy with Llakatura and the co-defendant, and their attempts to locate the victim. In one instance, Nikolla, Llakatura, and the co-defendant threatened, punched, and pulled a gun on a friend of the victim in an effort to make the friend locate the victim. The victim ultimately fled to a foreign country for a period of time to avoid the defendants’ extortionate threats.
The co-defendant is scheduled to commence trial later this month.
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