By Jonathan Dienst
An NYPD officer is accused of using his squad car to pull over the owner of a restaurant in Astoria and warning him to start paying the Albanian mob $4,000 cash a month or he and his family could be hurt, law enforcement officials say.
Prosecutors say police officer Bensik Llakatura is heard on tape during the July stop warning the restaurant owner that “these people, they run Astoria.” The officer allegedly told the owner he was “lucky” he survived a previous run-in with an armed associate who had tried to extort him.
The FBI said Llakatura, who is assigned to work on Staten Island, was heard on tape saying, “Make sure you don’t call the cops because if you do, you’re done.” He also allegedly told the owner if he “went into witness protection, they’d go after your family,” according to authorities familiar with the case.
The owner who was threatened, along with a co-owner, told the FBI about the confrontations, and the agency gave them marked cash to make the payoffs.
Llakatura, who allegedly collected $6,000 in "protection" money, was charged with extortion along with two alleged mobsters who are accused of collecting payments totaling $24,000 over a five-month period.
Investigators said there is evidence, including text messages, that the three men tried to extort other area business owners. Both alleged mobsters have previous arrests on extortion-related charges.
“The defendants told their victims they offered ‘protection’ but in reality they peddled fear and intimidation through the Albanian community – their community – in Queens,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
“Llakatura didn’t serve his community with honor; he instead abused his powers to the detriment of the public trust,” said FBI New York Director George Venizelos.
All three men pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon. Attempts to reach their attorneys were not immediately successful.
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