A disgraced former cop was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison for participating in a “violent organized crime group” that targeted Astoria business owners who opened establishments on their “turf,” federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
Between May and November 2013, Besnik Llakatura, an NYPD officer assigned to Staten Island’s 120th Precinct at the time, conspired to extort an Astoria restaurant owner, demanding monthly payments in exchange for “protection.” Co-defendants Redinel Dervishaj and Denis Nikolla were sentenced to 57 years and 18 years in prison, respectively.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Dervishaj demanded $4,000 from the business owner in 2013 for opening a restaurant in the neighborhood. The victim, who personally knew Llakatura, asked him for help since he was an NYPD officer.
Llakatura actively discouraged the victim from reporting the extortion to the police. He also warned the victim that Dervishaj would hurt him and had ties to dangerous Albanian organized crime suspects. Dervishaj’s brother, Plaurent, was Albania’s most wanted fugitive at that time.
Dervishaj and Nikolla threatened the victim on a Queens street and chased him at gunpoint when he failed to pay the ransom. The victim escaped in his car and was told by Dervishaj that he “got lucky this time.” During a five-month time span, each of the defendants collected extortion payments totaling $24,000.
In another instance, the men attempted to extort the owner of two social clubs in Astoria. They demanded $1,000 per week “for protection” but the victim refused to pay. In court-authorized wiretaps, investigators found that all three defendants worked to locate the victim to force him to make payments.
At one point, the men tracked down a friend of the victim and threatened, punched and pulled a gun on him to send a message to the business owner. The business owner fled to another country and then sold his clubs to avoid the men.
“In flagrant violation of his sworn duty to serve and protect the community, former police officer Llakatura, along with his criminal partners, used fear, intimidation and threats of violence to demand payment from hard-working citizens who dared to open businesses on their so-called ‘turf’ of Astoria, Queens,” stated U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue. “Today’s sentence drives home the message that no one is above the law and a police officer who commits crimes against the community he serves will be held fully accountable.”
Llakatura was sentenced to 171 months’ imprisonment, followed by a term of five years’ supervised release, for two counts of Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy and one count of brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
Llakatura was suspended without pay when he was arrested in December 2013 and dismissed from the NYPD following his guilty plea in December 2015. The court also imposed $10,000 in restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $10,000.
“Besnik Llakatura took an oath to serve and protect the citizens of New York City as an officer of the NYPD, while simultaneously pledging his allegiance to a violent organized crime group bent on shaking down local Queens business owners within the Albanian community,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “He quickly discovered what happens to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and after his guilty plea, was stripped of his shield of honor.”