Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Douglas Singer, Leroy Wilson and Marianne Wood each pleaded guilty to a Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy in connection with their extortion of the former owner of a pizzeria in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Today’s plea took place before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the plea.
“The defendants carefully scripted an intimidation plot, even using an actor as muscle, all in an effort to extort the victim into giving them $198,000,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “Protecting business owners from shake downs will always be a priority of this Office and our law enforcement partners.”
“A group of people doing their best to act like a group of mobsters, shaking down a pizzeria owner, will now face a steep price for what they described as ‘kinda fun.’ Business owners who are trying to make an honest living, shouldn’t have to fear someone with no legal power over them, extorting and threatening their livelihoods,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
As described in court documents and proceedings, in early 2018 the victim sold Singer a pizzeria business located in a building the victim owned on Coney Island Avenue for $60,000, a $15,600 security deposit and monthly rent payments of $5,200. In November 2018, Singer, Wilson and Wood met the owner at the restaurant. Wood explained that she was Singer’s business partner and worked for an organization handling Singer’s business relating to the pizzeria. She told the owner that he owed the organization $198,000, calculating the figure by adding the sales price of the pizzeria to the security deposit, and to costs for equipment and renovations, and purported operating losses incurred by Singer, and demanded payment that day. Wood then produced photographs of the victim, his spouse and children and explained that it would be in the best interest of everyone for the owner to pay up. Wilson, an actor who had been recruited to play the role of a bodyguard, leaned forward toward the owner during the threatening conversation, revealing a pistol holstered on his hip. After the meeting concluded, the victim reported the threats to law enforcement. The pistol was later determined to be a theatrical prop.
Prior to the November 2018 meeting at the pizzeria, messages between the defendants show that they scripted the planned extortion. Singer wrote to Wilson, “Is it possible for you to wear a dark suit but no tie? Maybe a white shirt? And dark sunglasses?” Singer also wrote to Wilson via Facebook Messenger: “I was wondering if you might be interested in a kind of acting gig. I need a couple of guys to escort my associate [Wood] while she delivers a demand to my landlord... You will simply have to stand in the background and appear to be muscle.” Later, Singer and Wood shared the following exchanges:
Singer: We are confirmed for 11:30 AM at the pizzeria with [the victim].
Singer: Let the games begin!
Wood: Oh yeah baby!!
On December 14, 2018, FBI special agents executed a search warrant at Wilson’s residence and recovered a black theatrical prop pistol and a leather jacket that Wilson was seen wearing on surveillance footage during the meeting at the pizzeria.
When sentenced, the defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section. Assistant United States Attorney Andrey Spektor is in charge of the prosecution.
Brooklyn, New York
Haskell, New Jersey
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 19-CR-147 (LDH)