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Alleged Plot to Extort Paula Deen Exposed; FBI Makes Arrest

Serg Alexander | Getty Images

Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen can now add being the target of an alleged extortion attempt to an already full plate of legal drama.

FBI officials announced Friday that they arrested Thomas Paculis, 62, in Newfield, N.Y., in connection with an extortion scheme targeting Deen.

Paculis, who previously resided in Savannah and Augusta in Deen's home state of Georgia, has been charged with attempting to extort Deen by requesting $250,000 in compensation in return for not releasing "true and damning" statements to the media made by Deen, according to a federal criminal complaint filed on June 24.

Deen's lawyer contacted the FBI's Atlanta office after Paculis sent an email and followed up with a phone call requesting the money, according to the complaint. Paculis indicated that the information he threatened to release would bring hardship and financial ruin to Deen, according to FBI Special Agent Mark F. Giuliano.

The extortion charge against Paculis comes after Deen has been dropped by a dozen companies in the past few weeks after she admitted her past use of a racial slur during a legal deposition. A lawsuit filed against her by a former employee claims the employee was sexually harassed and worked in a discriminatory environment.

Paculis was taken to Onondaga County Jail in New York and is scheduled to appear in front of a U.S. magistrate judge in Savannah on July 16, according to the FBI statement. Representatives for Deen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The alleged extortion plot is the latest in the saga of Deen, who also announced she has split with her agent of more than a decade, Barry Weiner, through a statement issued by her spokeswoman.

By Scott Stump, TODAY.com.

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