An elected village official on Long Island has been charged in an extortion and bribery scheme targeting Hispanic restaurant owners, authorities say.
Perry Pettus, a trustee in Hempstead, is accused of threatening restaurant owners with fines and summonses if they didn't pay him protection money, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
"Anyone who doesn't speak the language and is struggling to make the business work is a vulnerable person he can target," said Singas.
Another man, William Mendez, allegedly delivered the threats in Spanish. Prosecutors say he collected at least $25,000.
On wiretaps, the men called the cash "cookies."
Immigrant advocate Elise Damas, of the Central American Refugee Center, said allegations of a government official preying on Hispanic businesses will only increase distrust and fear in the community.
As he left court Tuesday, freed without bail, Pettus' family shouted "God is good." They said, "He did none of it."
He faces up to 15 years if convicted, and according to the D.A., his alleged shakedown of local restaurants may have involved Hempstead police and other village employees.