According to an FBI Report, a three-count indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging Redinel Dervishaj, Besnik Llakatura, and Denis Nikolla with Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy, attempted Hobbs Act extortion, and brandishing a firearm in relation to the extortion. The charges arose from the defendants’ extortion of money from a Queens County restaurant owner. Llakatura was at the time of the alleged offenses a police officer with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), assigned to the 120th Precinct in Staten Island, New York. He was suspended without pay upon his arrest. The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before United States Magistrate Judge Joan Azrack.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI); and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, NYPD.
“The defendants told their victims they offered ‘protection,’ but in reality, they peddled fear and intimidation through the Albanian community—their community—of Queens,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “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.” Ms. Lynch expressed her thanks to 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 for its cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
“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,” stated FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos.
“Llakatura is alleged to have exploited his friendship and shared heritage in order to help the defendants extort a restaurateur. Once it was reported, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau and the Department’s Organized Crime Investigations Division thoroughly responded, resulting in the charges being announced today,” Commissioner Kelly said.
According to the indictment and court filings, Dervishaj, Llakatura, and Nikolla demanded monthly payments from a Queens restaurant owner in exchange for “protection,” repeatedly using threats and intimidation to ensure his compliance. The scheme began shortly after the victim opened a restaurant in Astoria when he was visited by Dervishaj and told that he had opened a business in “our neighborhood” and, as a result, “you have to pay us.” The restaurant owner, who understood that he was targeted because he, like the defendants, is of Albanian descent, sought help from his friend Llakatura. Unbeknownst to him, Llakatura, an NYPD officer on Staten Island since 2006, was conspiring with Dervishaj in the extortion. Llakatura discouraged the restaurant owner from going to the police and sought to leverage his position to persuade the victim that he had no choice but to make the demanded payments. When the victim resisted, he was threatened with physical violence and chased at gunpoint down the street in Queens by Nikolla.
Court-authorized wiretaps of the defendants’ telephones uncovered detailed evidence of their efforts to maintain control over businesses in the neighborhood through fear, intimidation, and violence. In one intercepted call, Llakatura joked about how he “taxes” local businesses. In another, Nikolla described to Dervishaj how he had grabbed another victim “by the neck” because he had told Nikolla that he only had $2,000 and could not pay more. (The referenced language from the intercepted calls is based on draft translations from Albanian.)
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.
The charges announced today are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nadia Shihata and M. Kristin Mace.
Redinel Dervishaj, a/k/a “Redi”
Queens, New York
Besnik Llakatura, a/k/a “Besi” and “Nick”
Staten Island, New York
Brooklyn, New York