March 10, By Hannah Wulkan
A man who was part of an Albanian extortion crew that targeted Astoria business owners was sentenced to 18 years in prison earlier today.
Denis Nikolla, 36, was sentenced to 18 years in prison followed by five years of post-release supervision today for conspiring with two other men to extort thousands of dollars from three Astoria small business owners in 2012 and 2013, though his co-conspirators are still awaiting sentencing.
“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 Robert 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,” he added.
According to trial documents, Nikolla was sentenced for conspiring with Redinel Dervishaj and Besnik Llakatura to extort money from three businesses.
Between May and November of 2013 the three men attempted to extort money from an Astoria restaurant owner, demanding he pay them $4,000 per month for “protection” after he supposedly opened a restaurant on their turf.
The restaurant owner sought help from his friend Llakatura, who was a Staten Island police officer at the time, not knowing that he was conspiring with the other two men.
Llakatura discouraged him from reporting the extortion to the police and warned that the men would harm him if he did not pay.
When the victim did not make his payments, Nikolla threatened him on the street with a handgun, though the victim managed to escape in his car.
Over the course of five months the defendants took turns collecting payments from the victim, collecting $24,000 in total.
Between April 2012 and November 2013 Nikolla and Dervishaj also conspired to extort money from the owner of two nightclubs in Astoria.
When he opened a new club in Astoria, the two men demanded he pay for “protection.” When he refused, they cornered the victim at a bar in Queens and threatened him with a firearm, sticking it in his ribs and threatening to go to his home and beat up him, his wife and his children if he did not pay.
Finally, the three defendants conspired in 2013 to extort money from the owner of two social clubs in Astoria, demanding $1,000 per week for “protection.”
The victim refused to make his payments, and stopped going to his clubs out of fear for his safety. Court-authorized wiretaps revealed that the three defendants were working together to figure out how to find and extort money from the victim.
At one point, they badly beat up and pulled a gun on a friend of the victim in an attempt to locate him. The victim ultimately fled to another country and sold his social clubs.
“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 of the New York field office William Sweeney.