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Defendant Conspired with Active-Duty New York City Police Officer in Extortion Schemes
Earlier today, Denis Nikolla was sentenced before Judge Eric N. Vitaliano in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York to 18 years’ imprisonment, to be followed by five years’ supervised release, for 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 charges relate to the defendant’s participation in three schemes to extort small business owners in Astoria, Queens. Co-defendants Redinel Dervishaj and Besnik Llakatura are awaiting sentencing. Dervishaj was convicted after a three-week trial in April 2016, while Besnik Llakatura, a police officer with the New York City Police Department at the time of the crimes, previously pled guilty.
The sentence was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office, and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department.
“The defendant and his partners used fear, intimidation, and threats of violence to demand payment from those who dared to open businesses on their so-called ‘turf’ of Astoria, Queens,” stated United States Attorney Capers. “When his victims refused to pay, the defendant and his partners escalated their efforts to secure payment, brazenly brandishing firearms at their victims. Today’s sentence sends a strong message that criminals who use extortion and violence to profit from others’ hard work in our community will be held accountable and punished.” Mr. Capers extended his grateful appreciation to the members of the Joint Organized Crime Task Force, which includes agents of the FBI and detectives of the NYPD, which led the investigation, as well as the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Division and the FBI’s Public Corruption squad for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
“The defendant and his partners in this case coerced an innocent restaurant owner into paying for so-called protective services by using fear and threats of physical violence. The thought that someone can claim an area in any community as their ‘turf’ is not only illegal, it’s beyond comprehension in a normal society. No one should fear a criminal threatening and extorting money from them because of the area where they chose to open a legal and legitimate business,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
“Today’s sentence should deter others who believe they can use violence to extort their victims,” said Police Commissioner O’Neill. “My thanks to the prosecutors, detectives, and agents whose work on this investigation led to this sentence. The neighborhood of Astoria is safer today because of your hard work.”
According to prior court filings and evidence presented at the trial of co-defendant Redinel Dervishaj, between May and November 2013, Nikolla, Llakatura and Dervishaj conspired and attempted to extort a Queens restaurant owner, demanding monthly payments in exchange for so-called “protection.” Shortly after the victim opened a restaurant in Astoria, Dervishaj paid him a visit and demanded $4,000 per month because the victim had opened in “our neighborhood.” The restaurant owner sought help from his friend Llakatura, at the time an NYPD officer in Staten Island. However, unbeknownst to the victim, Llakatura was conspiring with Dervishaj and Nikolla in the extortion. Llakatura actively discouraged the restaurant owner from reporting the extortion to the police and warned the victim that Dervishaj and his associates would physically harm him if he did not pay. When the victim failed to make the demanded payments, Nikolla violently threatened him on a public street in Queens, pointing a semiautomatic handgun at the victim, ready to fire, before the victim managed to escape in his car. Over the course of five months, each of the three defendants took turns collecting monthly payments from the Astoria restaurant owner, ultimately extorting $24,000 from him.
Between April 2012 and November 2013, Nikolla and Dervishaj also conspired and attempted to extort the owner of two nightclubs after he opened a new nightclub in Astoria. 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.” After the owner refused to pay, Nikolla and Dervishaj confronted him at a bar in Queens, trapping him in an enclosed space near the entrance. Nikolla then retrieved a firearm from Dervishaj’s side, stuck the firearm in the victim’s ribs, while yelling at the victim that if he didn’t pay, Nikolla would go to his house and beat him up in front of his wife and children. If the victim then continued to refuse to pay, Nikolla said, he would then beat the wife and children up in front of him.
Finally, during 2013, Nikolla, Dervishaj and Llakatura also conspired and attempted to extort a proprietor of two social clubs in Astoria. Accompanied by Dervishaj, Nikolla demanded payments of $1,000 per week from the proprietor for so-called “protection.” The victim 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 that all three defendants worked together to locate the victim and force him to pay. In one instance, the defendants confronted a friend of the victim, badly beat him and pulled a gun on him, in an effort to locate and send a message to the victim. The victim ultimately fled to a foreign country for a period of time to avoid the defendants’ extortionate threats, and sold his social clubs.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nadia Shihata, Patrick Hein and Kristin Mace.
Brooklyn, New York
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