By Philip Newman
An NYPD officer and two Albanian immigrants have been charged with what federal prosecutors said was an extortion racket that cost an Astoria restaurateur some $24,000.
“The defendants told their victim they offered ‘protection,’ but in reality they peddled fear and intimidation through the Albanian community — their community,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch for the Eastern District of New York.
“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,” Lynch said.
Federal authorities identified those charged as Redinel Dervishaj, 37, of Queens; Officer Besnik Liakatura, 34, of Staten Island; and Denis Nikolla, 33, of Brooklyn — all of Albanian descent. All are charged with Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy, attempted Hobbs Act extortion and brandishing a firearm. The Hobbs Act covers extortion carried out through threatened force, violence or fear.
According to the indictment and court filings, Dervishaj and Nikolla demanded monthly payments from an unidentified restaurant owner in exchange for “protection” and repeatedly issued threats and intimidation to ensure compliance.
It began after the victim opened a restaurant in Astoria that was visited by Dervishaj, who told the owner that he had opened a business “in our neighborhood” and as a result “you have to pay us.”
The restaurant owner understood that he was targeted because he, like the defendants, is of Albanian descent, the court documents said. The owner sought help from his friend, Liakatkura, who discouraged him from going to the police, telling him he had no choice but to pay up, the court papers said.
Court-authorized wire taps of the defendants’ telephones uncovered detailed evidence of their efforts to maintain control over businesses in the neighborhood through fear, intimidation and violence.
Brooklyn prosecutors alleged that over a five-month period each of the defendants took turns collecting monthly payments from the restaurant owner, ultimately collecting $24,000.
Liakatkura has been suspended from the force at the 120th Precinct in Staten Island, the court documents said.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 718-260-4536.